Bias Among Forensic Document Examiners: A Need for Procedural Changes

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Questioned document examination, particularly handwriting/handprinting identification, lends itself readily to unintended bias on the part of the examiner. Questioned document examination is one of the few forensic science areas that depends primarily on a subjective analysis by the examiner. Most questioned document examiners attempt to render analyses as objectively as possible by using sophisticated measuring techniques. However, complete objectivity cannot be achieved because of the situation in which the document examiner is summoned for analyses, and the fact that most of the identification process involves a subjective opinion of the examiner. There exists some concern over the amount of unintended bias among document examiners. In any handwriting comparison, one can point out both similarities and dissimilarities of the writing habits. If the samples are pictorially similar, it becomes easier to point out similarities. A preconceived conclusion that 'the suspect wrote or did not write the document' based on the situation and social interaction finds an easier outlet when the samples are pictorially similar or dissimilar. There should be more than one sample of handwriting exemplars submitted for analysis. When possible, true examplars as well as request exemplars should be submitted to control for possible disguising of handwriting. By following these suggestions, a document examiner and submitting agency (police or attorney) can inhibit the amount of bias that may lead to erroneous conclusions by the examiner.