Handwriting & Signature Examination

Signatures are the most frequent type of questioned writing encountered, although a person’s handwriting also frequently attracts attention in litigation.  Forensic signature examination and forensic handwriting examination are both discussed below.  The terms "examination" and "analysis" are often used interchangeably but, in the context of the work that FDS undertakes, their meaning is strictly scientific.  Our examiners are forensic experts, not graphologists, and our work does not involve attempting to tell one's personality from their writing ("graphology"). 

Signatures

In a typical signature case, detailed microscopic comparative examinations are made of a set of known ("specimen") signatures and one or more questioned signatures, the writer of which is in doubt.

Signature forgery can occur in many ways including freehand simulation, tracing and image transfer. Alternatively, a signature may be written with some disguise with a view to disavowing it at a later time.  Chance coincidence in the signatures of two persons is rare but may be possible if the signature is particularly simple.

It must be noted that a finding that a signature is genuine does not establish the genuineness of the document as a whole as it may be the product of some form of document manipulation. 

Signatures can be disputed on all kinds of documents including Wills, financial documents, contracts, agreements, cheques, application forms and receipts.

FDS is also aware of the emerging use of electronic (biometric) signatures.  We are familiar with certain technologies used to capture electronic signatures and the forensic analysis software required to interrogate them. 

Handwriting

No two persons with mature handwriting write exactly alike, or write so much alike that with adequate amounts of proper material for comparison they cannot be differentiated.

In a typical case, detailed microscopic and general comparative examinations are made of a set of specimen writing known to have been written by a particular person and questioned handwriting, the writer of which is unknown or is in doubt.

Questions regarding handwriting are often raised with graffiti, anonymous letters, diary entries, medical records, cheques, declarations and application forms.

Requirements for the examination

To maximise the evidential potential of a document it is very important to submit the original questioned document for examination wherever this is possible.  If the original is not available, the best quality, earliest generation copy should be submitted and it may well still be possible to reach a useful finding, albeit likely a qualified finding.  

The specimen signatures and/or handwriting should also, where possible, be in original form and should ideally consist of two classes of documents: samples written during the normal course of business, some of which should be contemporaneous with the questioned material; and samples written specifically for the purposes of comparison. 

Specimens should not be excluded simply on the basis that they are not original or not of similar date to the questioned document.  The more specimens the better in terms of providing comparison material for an examination.

Examination process

For both signature and handwriting matters, the document examiner makes a detailed examination of the questioned and specimen signatures or handwriting with the aid of microscopes in order to ascertain, amongst other parameters, the precise method of construction of letter formations or signature components, their variations, how various letters relate to one another and the fluency of the writing.

Following a detailed examination of all of the writings, the examiner can usually reach a conclusion on the likelihood that the questioned and specimen writings/signatures were written by the one person. That degree of qualitative probability may be so high, or occasionally so low, that the document examiner is able to arrive at a definite conclusion.  Limitations to the examination will likely result in qualified findings.

Detailed and comprehensive forensic examinations are often multi-faceted and require the application of a combination of scientific methods and the use of a range of the instruments in our laboratories.   

Related case studies: 

Bank guarantee disavowal

A bank sought to recover funds pursuant to a bank guarantee.  The purported guarantor denied having signed the bank guarantee and claimed that the signature thereon was a forgery. 

Documents from WWI & WWII

FDS is often requested to examine historical documents in the context of people researching family histories and family trees, as well as others pursuing more academic genealogical interests. 

Electronic signatures & handwriting

FDS is making increasing use of digitising pads and specially designed software to capture specimens of handwriting and/or signatures of persons of interest in questioned document cases.  This allows quantitative measurements of the dynamics of writing including spee

Forged Will bearing genuine testator signature

The image below is part of a disputed Will where FDS was able to determine that, while the signature was genuine, the document as a whole was not.  The printed text was produced after the signature had been written and well after the death of the testator.&

Gonzales murders

In 2005 Seth Gonzales’ parents and sister were murdered in their family home in Lane Cove, Sydney.

Not my signature on that guarantee

Fingerprint examinations are not confined to criminal matters: their application in civil matters is becoming increasingly relevant.

Pen pressure in signature examinations

Observations of pen pressure variation have added significantly to a number of signature comparison cases undertaken in recent times.  This is determined qualitatively by microscopic observation and, in particular, by observing the embossment effect on the back of the doc

Who sat the test?

A tertiary educational institution called on the expertise of FDS to determine whether one student had substituted for another student in a series of examinations.  The provision of writing specimens based on assignments submitted by the students concerned led to cheating bein