Finding a Competent Expert

During initial discussions with a prospective client, it may be discovered that FDES has been retained by another party involved in the dispute. Due to this conflict of interest situation, the prospective client will have to locate another qualified expert to assist him/her.


While the statement, "all men are created equal" is widely accepted, no two forensic document examiners possess identical professional qualifications.  Every document examiner draws on a  body of knowledge he or she has acquired  through formal education, specialized training, scientific research and collaborating with other experts. The number of years experience, the types of cases examined and testimony given as an expert witness also contribute to a person's credentials. Those seeking assistance from a forensic document examiner should closely examine the expert's training, qualifications and experience...especially as they apply to the specific problem or matter at hand.


There are probably more unqualified people who claim to be "experts" in the Document Examination profession than in any other forensic specialty.  Far too often, these untrained or self-taught individuals claim to have received their training by attending a few lectures or by reading one or two books that may or may not be written by recognized authorities in the field. How then, can the truly qualified expert be distinguished from the charlatan?  The answer is by thoroughly investigating the training, background and experience of everyone purported to be an expert. 


Several matters should be addressed when speaking with the expert for the first time.



Can he/she supply an up-to-date curriculum vitae?

The expert's curriculum vitae should be complete, accurate and current. Ensure that the stated qualifications are relevant to forensic document examination and not to such areas as law enforcement, graphology, paralegal profession, private investigation, etc. Determine if the expert is employed on a full-time or part-time basis. 

Be highly suspicious of experts who provide little evidence of formalized training or work experience. Obtain references from clients who can vouch for the expert's abilities.


What professional training has the expert received?

It is generally accepted that at least two years of full-time study is required before becoming a qualified document examiner. This training should not consist of correspondence courses but rather should be a structured program with formal lesson plans and training objectives. Training should be supervised and administered by one or more qualified instructors.


Does this training appear to be adequate?

Keep in mind that virtually all government training programs for document examiners are a minimum 24 months in duration. Roughly half of this time is spent on handwriting identification and the remainder is spent studying the identification of office equipment (typewriting, copiers, facsimile machines, rubber stamps, etc.), the detection of alterations to documents, the restoration of damaged documents, testifying as an expert witness and other topics.


Was the expert tested during and at the end of the training program?

Every formal training program should include written, practical and oral tests to ensure the trainee has met or exceeded appropriate standards.


Is the expert certified by a recognized certifying body?

Two recognized bodies provide certification programs for forensic document examiners. In 1977, the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) was established and given the mandate of providing a program of certification in forensic document examination. The ABFDE is the only certifying body recognized by the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners. During the 1980's, the Forensic Science Society in the United Kingdom established a similar program that set strict standards for the profession.

Both of these organizations review the qualifications of their certified examiners every five years.  Only by following accepted protocls and adhering to strict conditions is an expert able to maintain his/her certification status.


Has the document examiner participated in any proficiency testing program or has he/she passed examinations such as those set by independent professional societies?

There are organizations who develop and administer proficiency tests for forensic document examiners on an annual and semi-annual basis.  Such testing should be completed on a regular basis and include analyses frequently conducted by the expert.

The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners requires applicants to successfully complete a battery of written, oral and practical tests before being considered for regular membership.  This Society requires that members attend an annual meetings and contribute to its scientific programs at least once every three years.


Does the document examiner have a fully equipped laboratory?

Every document examiner should have access to a laboratory with a large area suitable for examining large numbers of questioned and known documents. The facilities should be inspected to ensure it is clean, secure and orderly.  

A good quality stereo microscope is indispensable for examining document evidence. Other basic laboratory equipment includes a device for restoring indented impressions in paper, instruments for viewing documents under infrared and ultraviolet light, equipment for photographing evidence as well as a library of reference materials.


Is document evidence secure in the expert's laboratory?

Documents should be stored in a vault or lockable cabinet when they are not being examined. The building should be protected by a monitored alarm system.


To what extent has the expert developed or advanced his professional knowledge or technical skills?

Document examination, like all branches of science, is ever-changing. Practitioners must strive to keep abreast of new office technologies and modern investigative techniques.

Forensic document examiners should regularly attend conferences and participate in their scientific programs on a regular basis. Continuing education is fundamental to professional growth. A document examiner should be able to list seminars, workshops and other training opportunities he/she has attended on a regular basis.