Questioned document is a branch of forensic science in which the evidence material is a piece of document that is suspicious in nature. Document here could be simply a piece of paper, the ink used on it for writing, the handwriting, the indentation it has, the signatures it has, printed form of documents such as photocopied document, xeroxed document, currency notes, passport visas, typed document etc.
Questioned document branch deals with all kinds of civil as well as criminal cases that involve documents in any form and could help in investigation or even as corroborative evidence in the court of law. In civil litigation, cases like property papers, forged signature and other financial documents such as paper of will are dealt with, while in criminal litigation, evidence material such as suicide letter, ransome note, counterfeit currency; passport etc are taken into account.
“Albert S. Osborn” is known as the father of questioned documents and he has also published various books on Questioned document Examination, examination of Handwriting. Analysis of Ink and Paper etc. His most notable book is “Questioned Documents, (1910)” , it was later revised drastically. He is also known as the founder of American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE) in 1942.
Types of Questioned Documents
Some common types of questioned documents are:
- Letters and diary entry
- Property papers and wills
- Cheques and lottery slip
- Appointment or Resignation letter
- Damaged , burnt or altered documents
- Suicide note
- Id Cards
- Passport and Visas
- Stamp paper
- Currency notes and Bank drafts
- Photocopied document
- Typed document
- Shredded document
- Paper and Ink used
Apart from all of these various types of documents even a blank piece of paper can be of great evidentiary value, as when we write on a paper, the pressure applied while writing copies the exact same text on the paper or papers below the main document. A burnt document can also be retained and used for examination.
Application of Questioned Documents
The application of questioned documents examination in the field of investigation and law enforcement is immense. From White Collar Crimes that involves forged signature, fake documents, fake cheques etc to Criminal cases of extortion and homicide that involves ransom notes, suicide notes, diary entry etc. The handwriting involved in all such cases are examined profusely to tell if the document was written by the same person who is questioned, they could be either the victim as in forged signature case or suicide notes or of the culprit who forged the signature or wrote the suicide note on behalf of the deceased to divert the investigation.
One of the most horrifying cases that happened in the capital city of India and is also present in a documentary form on Netflix ,“ The Burari Death Case” was solved using various diaries of different family members who died. These diaries played a very crucial and significant role in solving such a mysterious mass suicide case.
Analysis of Questioned Document
The questioned document examiner examines the document using various scientific principles, tools and techniques. Some of the important and most used techniques are:
The visual examination and microscopic examination is used widely in the cases involving signature or handwriting frauds wherein the questioned documents examiner is specialised in handwriting examination and analyse the suspected and the sample evidence on various parameters such as natural variation, slant, pen lift etc. that are also known as class and individual characteristics.
The UV chamber is widely used in cases related to cheque fraud, counterfeit currency , passports , ink variation etc where some features of these documents show fluorescence under UV light.
ESDA or electrostatic deposition analysis is an instrument to analyse the indentation and thus visualise the text written on a blank sheet of paper. VSC or visual spectral comparator is also widely used in analysis of documents using various filters and lights. TLC-like tests are done for ink analysis.
Questioned Documents examination is a very integral part of forensic sciences and is widely used everyday to solve cases and aid in justice. Various global organisations such as American society of questioned document examination, Australian society of questioned document examination are widely involved in solving cases and researching on concepts and principles that are a part of questioned document examination.