A Lawyer's Handbook
Academic Press, San Diego, California, 2001
Questioned Document Examiner
Questioned Documents Unit
Federal Bureau of Investigation
of this book is not to teach the field of Questioned Documents to
people who are in search of a new profession. The focus is very
specific to explain to the lawyer some of the basics of document
examination..." To that end, Jay Levinson's book, Questioned
Documents: A Lawyer's Handbook, succeeds.
has compiled a good overview of the many types of examinations conducted
by the questioned document examiner. His focus is not simply on
the examination of handwriting but also on the examination of typewriting
and other office equipment that the 21st century document examiner
is likely to encounter. Although his discussions of these topics
are brief, they do provide a good starting point for the lawyer
or the investigator, as well as for the document examiner trainee.
The book, however,
is not without its faults. Many statements in the book can be subject
to misinterpretation and used against the qualified document examiner.
For example, in the section of the introduction that addresses the
issues in which an attorney might be particularly interested, such
as training and qualifications of a document examiner, the author
states on page 11 that "it is a generally accepted principle
that the training of a document examiner takes at least three years
of full-time apprenticeship under a qualified examiner." He
goes on to say on page 12 that "in no case, however, should
a period of less than three years full-time training be accepted."
This is more stringent than, and generally contradicts, the training
period required by most laboratories in the United States, as well
as that required by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners
and the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners.
Also in the introductory section, on pages 20 and 21, Dr. Levinson
discusses quality assurance, quality control, and laboratory accreditation,
stating "this is, in fact, for the general betterment of the
laboratory." However, he goes on to undermine the proficiency
testing aspect of accreditation and the integrity and ethics of
both the laboratories and examiners taking these tests. He states
"a problem with these tests is that some laboratories wish
to guard their name (even when promised anonymity) rather than test
proficiency, so the tests become group projects with effort devoted
more than to a routine case." This is not the type of baseless
accusation with which the qualified document examiner wants to be
confronted when testifying.
aspects of this book, although not intended to be all inclusive,
are sometimes lacking in material that is so basic it should be
mentioned. For example, it is common for a document examiner to
examine typewriting that has been prepared using a single-use carbon
film ribbon that can be corrected using a ribbon that lifts the
carbon from the paper. On pages 137 to 139, the author discusses
methods to remove typewriter ink with an eraser or obliterate it
with correcting ribbon, correction tape, and correction fluid. Nothing
is mentioned about carbon film ribbon and lifting the letter off
some of the technical portions of the book suffer from being too
generally stated. For example, on page 153, the author states, "a
difference under UV in two inks, papers, etc. is sufficient to say
they are different." This blanket statement does not take into
account the manufacturing process of reams of paper, when sheets
from as many as six different rolls of paper, some of which can
have different optical properties, may be combined to form one ream.
Finally, whereas this book is presumably intended for lawyers in
the United States as well as the rest of the world, it relies heavily
on references, examples, and illustrations from Israel, Europe,
and the USSR using the Hebrew, Arabic, and Cyrillic alphabets. A
better balance between the foreign examples and others that use
the Latin alphabet and writing characteristics would better serve
the lawyer or document examiner trainee in the United States. For
example, in his discussion of the Examination of Known Writing section
on page 40, he refers to the formation of the "samech,"
the pressure in the "terminal 'nun'," and the proportions
of the "aleph." Dr. Levinson served in the Israeli Police
and has taken many of his illustrations and references from casework
from that experience; however, some of these references and examples
will be lost on lawyers and trainees in the United States.
All that aside,
this book does give a good overview of the field of questioned documents
to the lawyer, the investigator, and the document examiner trainee.
Chapter 16, Examples of Materials to be Examined, is a useful guide
for those unfamiliar with the scope of analyses a forensic document
examiner can conduct. It demonstrates that the field of questioned
documents is more than just handwriting examination.
This book is
not thorough enough to be considered a primer for the document examiner
trainee; however, it does not pretend to be. With the knowledge
that some of the statements in this book may be misconstrued and
used against the qualified document examiner by the lawyers for
which this book is intended, the reader will find that Questioned
Documents: A Lawyer's Handbook does have its place in the more
comprehensive repertoire of readings done by the novice as well
as the experienced examiner.