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Handwriting Expert Witnesses - Are They Allowed in Federal Cases?

Handwriting experts may have difficulty with admissible testimony in certain cases unless the professional remains in line with the Rule 702 for Federal Rules of Evidence. Any deviation or sidetrack from these rules could lead to the exclusion of an expert’s testimony regarding handwriting samples and examination of the writer.

The Handwriting Expert

Before a person may provide assistance with a federal case that has a background in handwriting, he or she may need to provide detailed credentials to prove that the education and professional field is part of the wider scientific community. Many experts that claim to know handwriting and may provide testimony in a courtroom are not successfully qualified to give valid information for a federal case. The expert may consider his or her field of study sufficient, but the lawyer may need to vet him or her more carefully for the more stringent federal rules of evidence.

Admissibility of Expert Handwriting Testimony

The witness that the lawyer hires to give testimony for the federal case must qualify by knowledge, skills, experience or education and training. He or she may provide an opinion, but it must have a foundation of fact or fact-based material directly related to the subject matter. The testimony that becomes admissible and remains admissible for a federal case requires reliable principles and methods with testing and the related facts and data. The expert must also reliably apply the principles to the facts of the case and ensure that results of testing are confirmable and consistent.

Use of a Handwriting Expert Witness

There are numerous experts that claim knowledge and a background in handwriting. However, the only ones that may usually remain in the courtroom for a federal case are those that prove their expertise. This may require confirmed reports of matching handwriting of multiple individuals as well as comparing the specific characteristics of handwriting. The expert would need to use the testing processes to connect one person to the sample based on the similarities and differences. Some experts may use software and computers to assist with this procedure to narrow down certain issues. With reliable tests and matching samples, the expert may often remain in the case.

The use of scientific, specialized knowledge and technical skills is essential for the expert witness to become and remain a designated expert witness without facing disqualification. This leads to the need to prove the process through facts and data rather than an impression. The professional must use knowledge and experience with working with handwriting samples from multiple individuals. The expert will generally apply certain principles based on education in how to separate and distinguish the hand-written materials. This could point to a single person, but with error, it could point to more than one person.

The Handwriting Expert in the Federal Case

The experts in any federal case must follow the Rules of Evidence, remain relevant to the subject matter of the specific case matter and have reliable testing methods that give confirmed results for the handwriting concern. To match the written document to a single person is often difficult. With various methods, it is possible to do so as proposed by an expert in the field. However, when handwriting is similar to others and the individual uses the same characters and inflection of another person, it is not easy to discover the single person attached to the sample. Even with software to single out numerous others that may have some association to the case materials, the one person with that handwriting is generally hard to find.

Sufficient data and facts must remain present in the courtroom in federal cases for an expert to stay in the case as a designated expert witness. If the opposing legal counsel has an objection based on a deviation from proven facts or scientific data which the expert bases his or her opinions, the professional may face disqualification or an exclusion of testimony. Conclusions based on opinion are usually not valid when presenting information to the courtroom such as when comparing handwriting styles and documents in a federal case.

Testimony of a Handwriting Expert

The expert witness tasked with comparing and discovering the true writer with handwritten samples must base his or her findings on conclusive results through proven testing methods. Using education as a foundation for these processes, he or she may remain in a federal case when following the necessary rules and guidelines for evidence and as an expert witness for the lawyer.

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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.

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