What is Questioned Document Examination?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 May 2020
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Questioned document examination is a branch of forensics which focuses on the analysis of documents which are disputed. A questioned document examiner will look at the document in question and use a variety of techniques to analyze it, and he or she may even be called as a witness in a case, depending on the outcome of the examination. Many forensic laboratories keep a forensic document examiner on staff, and some people in this field also work independently, offering their services to anyone who wishes to pay their fees.

The training required for a career in questioned document examination varies. At a minimum, a candidate must have extremely good perception skills and eyesight, with colorblindness tending to exclude someone from the field. He or she may also be encouraged to take tests with basic samples to see whether or not he or she can notice subtle differences between materials. Someone who is good at “spot the differences” puzzles in the Sunday paper might be a good candidate. Questioned document examiners can either apprentice with people in the field, or attend university programs which offer training in a laboratory setting.

When a questioned document examination is ordered, the first goal is to determine whether or not the document is genuine. Once the veracity of the document can be proved or disproved, the examination focuses on identifying or eliminating potential authors of the document. The examiner will then produce a complete report, discussing the findings and their ramifications, and he or she may be asked to testify in court about the document.

All sorts of documents can be included in questioned document examination, from checks which are suspected to be forged to questionable wills. A questioned document examiner generally has extensive knowledge of printing techniques, and he or she may know a lot about inks, pencils, rubber stamps, seals, and other tools which could be used to verify the identify of a document and its author. Handwriting analysis is another important skill in this field, as the examination may include a comparison of handwriting samples to find out whether or not someone truly penned a note.

Stock certificates, notes, letters, birth certificates, wills, and an assortment of other materials can be subjected to questioned document examination. It is important to remember that the skills of questioned document examiners vary quite widely; if you require one, you may want to seek a recommendation from a professional forensic association, especially if you think that the document may become critical in a court case.

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Post 3

I think if you were going to hire someone for examination of questioned documents, it would probably be a good idea to hire someone who is employed at a forensics lab. That way, you would be assured that they're skilled in their field. It sounds like anyone could set themselves up as an independent document examiner.

Either way, I'm wondering if there will be a need for questioned document examination in the future. More and more things are done completely digitally. In the future, we might need forensic computer people to do this job instead of someone who is an expert in physical documents.

Post 2

@Pharoah - I see what you're saying, but I don't think certification is necessary in this case. In my opinion, certification is just another way for states to bring in revenue by charging for exams and classes. Forensic document examination sounds difficult, and I'm sure anyone who isn't good at it would wash out of the field quickly.

Anyway, I can't imagine the eye for detail you would have to have to do this job. But I'm not good at those "spot the differences" puzzles either, so of course I can't imagine being able to tell the difference between a real document and a really good fake.

Post 1

I really think that anyone doing scientific examination of questioned documents should have to be certified by the state. It seems like the status of a questioned document could be extremely important in a legal case. I mean, look at all the documents listed: wills, birth certificates, checks, etc. All of those are pretty important.

I don't think that skill set of a questioned document examiner should be so varied. It would make things a lot easier if they were certified so that everyone knew what they were getting when they hired someone to do this. Also it would certainly enhance their credibility in court.

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