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Field Examination Performed “By Proxy”

My dilemma revolved around limitations pertaining to the original document bearing the questioned signature: time and location.

Six months earlier, my preliminary verbal opinion was rendered based on an examination of a barely legible signature on a poor photocopy of the pivotal document in a dispute regarding a US Government land lease. Although highly recommended, the whereabouts of the original was not pursued at that time for reasons beyond my control.

Suddenly, just 2 business days prior to the scheduled court date, my client attorney re-contacted and asked me to prepare telephonic court testimony in support of my preliminary verbal opinion. The 5-hour drive time between my office in downtown Portland and the courtroom in the client attorney’s southern Oregon town, made the telephonic testimony arrangement ideal for all.

However, it was not ideal for me to prepare testimony of my preliminary verbal opinion of a barely legible signature on a poor photocopy. To make my opinion reliable, I hesitated to prepare an opinion for court without an exam of the original, and wondered if it existed and where it was located.

We discovered the whereabouts of the original which was in a file in a remote US Forest Ranger Station located near a mountaintop lake in Central Oregon.
It was available, but limited for access geographically (too remote/far away) and time-wise (2 days prior to my scheduled telephonic court appearance).

My client attorney arranged a telephonic meeting between the US Forest Ranger and myself to further investigate the questioned document.

I ventured an inquiry wondering about the availability of a digital camera, email service and the US Forest Ranger’s willingness and capacity to assist my effort. I wanted him to use a digital camera to capture and email images of 1) the entire questioned document and 2) a close-up of the questioned signature to me

Fortunately, a digital camera and email was available in the remote US Forest Service Station. Kindly, and without compensation from me, the US Forest Ranger agreed to assist. I gave the US Forest Ranger some basic forensic photography protocol applicable to digital cameras in general.

Once the email with the attached file containing digital images was received, I immediately forwarded it via email to my Kinko’s type copy center for an 8 ½ x 11" color output. The color copies of the questioned document and the questioned signature revealed the reason for the barely legible signature on the poor photocopy. The original signature was written in light blue ink.

I arranged for a 300% color enlargement, on 11 x 17" size paper, of the email file containing the digital image of the questioned signature. This allowed for a more detailed handwriting examination revealing the significant handwriting features which were valuable for use as a basis of a more reliable opinion, although qualified, for court testimony.

My client attorney’s office staff assisted in the preparation of my demonstrative courtroom exhibits for use in the remote Southern Oregon courtroom. I simply used email to forward the US Forest Service Ranger’s email file directly to their office.

To demonstrate the questioned signature clearly, I gave specific instructions to output a 300% enlargement hard copy of the email file using a color photocopy machine.

In court, the opposing handwriting examiner gave his telephonic testimony based entirely on his examination of the barely legible signature on the poor photocopy. Even though he had the same public access to the original as I did, he never ventured an effort to request a digital view.

Also, the US Forest Ranger gave telephonic courtroom testimony regarding the physical details of the original document: its date, condition, method of storage and chain of custody.

In summary, I didn’t let the limitations of time and distance prevent a thorough examination to base a more reliable opinion. With a digital camera, email and the assistance of a layperson, my opinion was rendered and illustrated with a meaningful and effective courtroom exhibit by proxy.

By J. Joseph & Associates, Forensic Handwriting Investigations
Board Certified Forensic Handwriting Examiner
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jacqueline A. Joseph, CDE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jacqueline A. Joseph, B.A., CDE, D-BFDE* Board Certified Forensic Document Examiner and Handwriting Investigator

*D-BFDE (Diplomate with the Board of Forensic Document Examiners). Fewer than 1% of forensic document examiners worldwide have achieved this noted credential.

Since 1992 she is has provided services in handwriting identification and authentication in the Pacific Northwest and worldwide. As a testifying expert, she has given testimony in civil and criminal matters. Her published papers include research in ambidexterity, opposite-hand writing, disguise and more. In collaboration with Marcel B. Matley, she produced an educational DVD "The Two Pillars of Individuality and Identifiability in Handwriting." This work was approved for 3 semester-credit hours at East Tennessee State University Forensic Science Department.

Copyright J. Joseph & Associates, Forensic Handwriting Investigations

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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