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Handwriting Analysis: History, the US Law


From the ancient days of antiquity to the present days of technological advancement crime has been part of the major social ill. It is through the development of this ill that experts have been brought on board to combat the increasing trend as well as ensure that the perpetrators of such crimes are brought to book. Forensic scientists have used several scientific and unscientific methods to investigate crimes. DNA Testing and handwriting analysis have been widely used in crime-related investigations. According to Scott (2003, pp 57), it is important to appreciate that forensic handwriting analysis has and is still relied upon especially in cases associated with forgery, suicidal notes, ransom letters and notes aimed at perpetrating hate crimes towards people. Forensic handwriting analysis owes its applicability to the uniqueness of the people’s handwriting. Forensic handwriting analysis has proven to be extremely beneficial in solving many crimes by linking specimens of handwriting with crime suspects’ handwriting through comparison.

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History of Handwriting Analysis

The handwriting analysis has played a crucial role in crime investigation since 1932. According to Kelly and Phillip (2004, pp 89), any crime where documentation is involved has seen the use of the analysis important. The person who is usually responsible for the crime can be identified with ease especially if other evidence handwriting techniques are adopted. However the ancient handwriting analysis works were carried out in 1622 by Camillo Baldi when he concluded that each person’s writing is unique and that there exists no true imitation of another’s writing. Baldi’s work was cemented by the Italian, French and German investigators who tried to establish a scientific backing for the handwriting analysis. It was argued that the characteristics depicted by a writer in terms of speed, variations in emphasis, length and angle of down strokes and upstrokes are not only held in the writer’s hand but brain. The psychological configuration of a writer can thus be structured by a quantitative measure of these writing components. Forensic science experts are usually categorical of the fact that graphology is different from handwriting analysis.

Whereas handwriting analysis is considered forensic evidence, graphology is regarded as a fun game and not seriously used for forensic science. Historically speaking, however, the tracking down of George Metesky in connection to the bombing of New York in the 1950s is attributed to graphology. According to Ritter (2008, pp 15-18), a three-page ransom note associated with the killers of a young girl in 1996 was closely examined with an aim of establishing the writer’s psychological profile hence the killer. Graphology proved a success in 2002 with the profiling of “D.C Sniper”, a terrorist in Washington, D.C.

Handwriting Analysis

Forensic hand writing analysis is primarily concerned with the comparison of a set of documents with a view of determining the true identity and if otherwise substantially investigate a document related with crime. Graphology, on the other hand, which is simply the study of handwriting and the consequential human behavior, was correlated to psychology on the premise that handwriting originates in the brain. Graphology, just as many other life techniques, has not escaped the wrath of critics who usually claim that it is not based on any scientific base. Despite the fact that it lacks empirical proof it enjoys a worldwide application in formal and informal capacities. Most graphologists claim that it is possible for them to deduce a lot from one’s handwriting.

How Hand Writing Analysis Works

The complex nature of handwriting analysis in criminal law has made life difficult for crime investigators. It is through various documents such as suicide notes or wills that the investigators are able to ascertain whether crimes were committed or not. A thorough analysis of these documents usually tells of whether forgery took place and thereby prosecutes the offender. It is common phenomenon to witness lack of authenticity in one’s signature due to forgery and misrepresentation. According to Cohen (2003, pp 105), a sample of one’s handwriting is therefore required for comparison purposes. The accused is usually required to provide a handwritten document consisting of various writing techniques in order to have a wide base for comparison with the ‘real’ document.

Many think that the comparison between the original and sample document usually aims at checking on the similarities. To the contrary, it is the significant differences that are of interest in this analysis. Cohen states that a comparison is thus made between the two sets on the basis of observable differences (2003, pp108). It is sometimes necessary to employ the use of a microscope or magnifying glass for a closer and better scrutiny of the documents. The letter form, line form and formatting include but a few of the components reviewed in this analysis. According to Saferstein (2000, pp 183), it is however worthwhile to note that the reliance on one piece of evidence may be misleading and may therefore victimize the innocent. The analysis of one’s handwriting objectively is therefore expertise to avoid instances of mismatch and eventual wrong conviction. The qualifications for one to be a handwriting analyst is a diploma in Forensics from the International School of Forensics and joining a professional association referred to as Handwriting Services International (HSI) is a must for one to practice.

Handwriting analysis is a subset of questioned documents; questioned document examiners (QDEs) check the validity and authenticity of signatures to detect cases of forgery. The analysis is tedious and methodical and lack of knowledge on how letters are formed may be detrimental. The matching of writing behavior to the physiological process associated with writing form the basis of an effective analysis of handwriting. Handwriting analysis, according to Riley (2007, pp 101-107), serves two major purposes in forensic science. Hand writing analysis has been used largely in the verification of crucial documents. They include important records, signatures, personal diaries, and wills. It is through this purpose that a document’s validity in terms of identity is ascertained. The second purpose entails the comparison of the suspected document to the sample document. This purpose is not aimed at profiling the writer but it is an investigative procedure that tries to establish whether the same hand produced the suspected document. According to Cohen (2003, pp 109), analysts are usually keen not to show the suspected document to the suspect.

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Information regarding spelling of certain words and punctuation is not shared to the suspect. The strict procedure does not rest at that but continues to outline that the writing materials used in the suspected document should also be used of the sample for easy comparison. Dictation in the presence of a witness is usually done for at least three times to allow the suspect write. The purpose for which handwriting analysis is applied for is based on the fact that the way people form letters and words differs and is inculcated over a long period of time. The fixation of these writing tendencies takes time and an alteration of the same is usually difficult, a reason that makes it difficult for a person to deviate from his/her writing. According to Scott (2003, pp 60), a person’s writing is usually defined by four factors. The form in terms of letter shape, proportion, angles of inclination and curves. According to Riley (2007, pp 110), a close monitoring of people writing the same letters always yields different outcomes. For instance individuals write the letter ‘p’ quite differently. The outcome of writing letter ‘t’ is also usually different in terms of slant; it may slope upwards or downwards depending on a given writer.

The quality of line has also proved of interest to handwriting analysts. Some writers exert so much pressure while others exert minimal pressure while writing thereby producing different outcomes altogether. Some will exercise continuity in their writing while others will pause on. The pauses can be observed since they occur at repeated intervals and patterns.

According to Scott (2003, pp 62), the arrangement of letters and words has also been considered of importance in handwriting analysis. The spacing, alignment, formatting and punctuation of words is usually different a reason behind why people may require different number of papers to jot down the same piece of information.

The final factor which is also vital to document examiners is the content of writing. The spelling, phrasing, grammar and the formation of sentences are all considered under this factor. The differences in spelling among writers can for instance be observed through simple dictation techniques. According to Rand and Catalano (2006, pp 114), the greatest question that still lingers in most minds is; is handwriting analysis a reliable forensic tool? The use of handwriting analysis often employs the use of a set of equipment: Basic measuring tools, magnification tools (magnifiers or microscopes), light sources, special instruments (Ultra-Violet and Infra-Red films and filters), photography equipment and computer equipment.

The US Law and Hand Writing Analysis

The lack of scientific basis for hand writing analysis makes the technique insufficient in a court of law. According to Butler (2000, pp 45), the reliability and validity of the analysis is thus not a stand-alone element but is dependent on other investigative techniques in the criminal law. The US law is categorical of the fact that just as finger prints can be used for identification purposes, so can a person’s hand writing. The law is clear on the fact that a court of law can order samples of a person’s hand writing be taken for purposes of crime investigation even if he/she is unwilling. The citizens’ right not to implicate themselves is captured in The Fifth Amendment. Butler is of the opinion that it is however considered not a violation of human rights to ask for a person’s hand writing samples (2000, pp 48).


For a long time now, in essence, forensic handwriting analysis has proven to be extremely beneficial in solving many crimes by linking and comparing samples of handwriting with handwriting of those suspected to have committed crimes. The fact that hand writings differ and the uniqueness plays a crucial role in forensic science is well proved. The objectivity of hand writing analysis for crime investigation is however not assured in some cases due to mismatch cases. However, advancement in technology has seen the efficiency of this technique improve over the years. Hand writing analysis is expertise and therefore requires that the person be qualified for purposes of ensuring that the findings obtained are true and objective. Hand writing analysis has brought many revelations in the world today. Apart from the fact that the technique has been used for crime investigations, the profiling of one’s psychology can be made possible through observing hand writing techniques. Hand writing analysis is still a tool that can be of use if ample time is spent on improving it.

Reference List

Butler, J. (2000) Case law for Attorneys and Investigators: Case Law; Obtaining Handwriting Samples. Routledge Press, Pp. 42-50

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Cohen, F. (2003) Scientific Handwriting Analysis. New York: Free Press, Pp. 104-112

Kelly, J. F. & Phillip, K. W. (2004) Tainting Evidence: Inside the Scandals at the FBI Crime Lab. New York: Free Press, Pp. 85-96

Rand, M. & Catalano, S. (2006) Criminal Victimization, 2006, Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Pp. 32-45

Riley, D. E. (2007) Forensic Evidence: An Introduction for Non-Scientists. University of Washington, Pp. 108-116

Ritter, N. (2008) Understanding Forensic Science. National & International Journal, 261; Pp. 12-25

Saferstein, R. (2000) Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science. New York: Prentice-Hall, Pp. 174-192

Scott, J. A. (2003) The Straight Dope: Is handwriting analysis legit science? Washington, Pp. 55-62

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