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A handwriting examiner, also known as a forensic document examiner, determines whether two or more documents were written and/or signed by the same person. These examiners are generally employed in a legal context to assist courts, companies, and government agencies to verify a document’s source and signature. Handwritten wills, credit card slip signatures, and anonymous notes are examples of documents often in need of verification. To work as a handwriting examiner, an individual must possess a bachelor’s degree and undergo two years of apprenticeship in a laboratory that verifies questioned documents.
Handwriting examiners must follow a specific set of guidelines when examining documents. To verify the handwriting of the document in question, a known document, the origin of which has already been established, is used. The examiner is tasked with comparing the handwriting on the known document to that of the document in question. A complete analysis may involve a review of print writing, cursive writing or, in many cases, is strictly related to the signature on a document.
Through training, a handwriting examiner learns how to distinguish the unique characteristics of a person’s handwriting. Slight variations exist within an individual’s handwriting; the examiner understands how to account for these variations and identify when a forgery has occurred. In many cases, an adequate sampling of known handwriting is needed to accurately determine whether the document in question is similar or different.
When analyzing potentially forged documents, an examiner will look at a few factors. In the simplest case, the forger has not attempted to copy the genuine signature, resulting in straightforward identification of dissimilar writing. In other cases, the forger may have attempted to imitate a writing style or trace a signature. The examiner must become familiar with the individual characteristics of the genuine writer, such as how he forms and combines his letters.
A handwriting examiner must possess a specific set of skills and abilities. Excellent eyesight is a basic requirement, and vision tests are generally required. The examiner must demonstrate the ability to exercise sound and objective analysis as well as good judgment. Handwriting examiners are often asked to testify in court regarding their findings; they must be articulate and confident in high pressure situations.
The work of the handwriting expert is highly specialized and generally requires certification offered by numerous agencies. The standard requirement is a solid education in the form of a bachelor’s degree. In addition, the handwriting examiner must study as an apprentice for a period of two years under the guidance of a seasoned examiner. This training involves learning both the theoretical aspects of the work as well as the practical components, which involve interacting with clients and testifying in court.
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