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In the field of Forensic Document Examination, one of the most important responsibilities is to locate and examine all of the known and questioned originals involved in the case. This article is a brief explanation with photographs that will demonstrate the value of evidence that can only be found in originals.

This protocol supports the concept of "justice" for the truth found in originals documents. The use of photocopies immediately places doubt and uncertainty on the document's authenticity. The reason this is so important is because evidence is lost once a document has been copied.

As a Forensic Document Examiner and Handwriting Expert, it is my responsibility to insure that I am working with the best possible evidence from the very beginning of my involvement with a client and/or attorney. Seldom does the inquiring person realize the value of having an original and how to handle the original.

Most people realize it is important to keep all originals safe and will take the precautions to make sure other family members know about the location. Generally, the location is a home safe or safety deposit box; however I have had family members bring me paperwork found in a freezer bag in the home freezer or in a cardboard shoe box.

Attorneys encourage their clients to keep all the "paperwork" up to date and will usually keep first generation copies of any legal documents in the file in their office, giving a backup for the client.

Often the inquiring person will question the need to locate and examine the original. A recent case demonstrates why originals are important.

The Case: A customer said she took her Brand name chair in for repairs and requested genuine parts be used in the process. She said she signed the work order. Soon after she took the chair home, it collapsed. She could not get satisfaction from the repair shop at which point she hired legal counsel.

The repair shop gave her a copy of the 3 page work order. She said it wasn't her signature and it was missing the request for genuine brand name parts. I asked her attorney to request examination of the original 3 page work order.

Evidence: Upon examination, with illumination and magnification, the visual evidence of indented writing on page 3 of the work order proved the client had indeed ordered the authentic parts and had signed her known signature.


Page 3: The indentions appear only on page 3 the original worksheets, on 6 different lines. The circled note stating no generic parts is apparent on page 3, as well between lines 15 and 19, at an angle.

Page 2: has no indentions, which would indicate it was written separately and placed in between pages 1 and 3.

Page 1: the instructions and signature are different than those on page 3, in location and line as well as appearance, on the front sheet of the original work order. There are no indentions of this information on page 2 indicating the front sheet was written on a separate surface.

The staple holes confirm the evidence found on the original worksheets.


Page 1: shows 2 staples- 4 holes
Page 2: shows 1 staple - 1 hole
Page 3: shows 2 staples- 8 holes

Conclusions: Pages 1 and 2 were written on the same paper as the original worksheets and to "appear" as the original order. Page 3 is the original page 3 and proves the conspiracy to defraud the client.

In Summary: Without originals this evidence would not be visible. Remember when you are handling original documents to keep them in their pristine condition and allow your document expert to determine if they are indeed originals, protect them, photograph and examine them prior to any other action. It can make a different in the outcome of the case.

Sylvia Kessler is an effective and skilled Certified Forensic Document Examiner as well as a Handwriting Expert with over 25 years of experience.

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