Can you determine the date of preparation of a document containing either handwritten notations or signatures?

Yes, with certain limitations. We can determine the first date of commercial availability of the ink used to prepare any handwritten or handprinted material. The type of ink does not preclude this examination. If the initial date of commercial availability is more recent than the supposed date of the examined writing, then the document is not what it purports. We cannot, however, through this technique, determine the specific or even approximate date of preparation.

Other techniques can determine the approximate date of preparation of handwritten entries. If additional entries are available that can be considered “known” regarding their preparation date, then comparative analysis may provide evidence to indicate the preparation date of the “questioned” writings. Additionally, it is possible to measure the quantity of several semi- volatile components that are present in ink. As the ink ages these components decrease and thus the approximate age of the writing can be determined.

Can the date of preparation be determined for other types of documents such as typewritten, carbon, computer printed or xerographically reproduced?

Not to the same degree as handwritten documents or signatures. It is not possible to determine commercial availability of these materials with the same degree of certainty as was possible with writing ink. It is, however, often possible to ascertain enough information to provide a list of possible sources and thus a range of commercial availability dates. The ability to further examine these materials, as was described previously, does not exist to the same degree. It is possible to examine xerographically produced materials and determine the extent to which they have been exposed to environmental conditions. This can provide an estimate of age. Additional examination methodologies are being evaluated that concern the other referenced materials.

Can an addition to a document, either typed, printed, written, or by substituting a page, be detected?

Yes. Physical and chemical examinations can indicate the use of multiple typewriters, printers, papers or writing instruments in the preparation of a document. When additions are prepared using the same materials that were used in the initial preparation of the document then the question actually becomes, "When were the additions made?" We then must refer to the previously mentioned techniques.

Are any of the referenced techniques destructive?

Many of the physical examinations are totally non-destructive and do not affect the documents in any way. Nor do these procedures affect the ability of other examiners to perform similar testing. The chemical testing that is referenced does require removal of samples from the document. Normally these samples are removed with a hypodermic needle sized hole punch and do not affect the legibility of the material. The hole punch is approximately the size of a typewriter period and a full range of tests requires about 30. In a normal sized signature there is over 4 inches of written line, and 30 "microplugs" is approximately 5/8 inch. Because the samples are normally taken from the entire area of writing the legibility of the writing and the ability to perform additional tests are maintained. In those instances where minimal writing or material exists, the extent to which an examination can be performed will be evaluated individually.

Will the results of these examinations be admissible in court?

The ultimate decision of admissibility is at the discretion of the court. The techniques described, however, have been thoroughly researched and peer reviewed in the literature and through presentation to the forensic community. The best measure of admissibility is in the competence of the expert, and we at Federal Forensic Associates, Inc. take pride in providing the best in integrity and technical expertise.

Albert H. Lyter, III, PhD

Albert H. Lyter, III, PhD

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