The Questioned Document Section of the Mississippi Crime Laboratory is responsible for examining any document about which a question has been raised concerning its authenticity. These examinations can take many forms. They include the examination of handwriting to determine its writer, the examination of photocopies to determine their source or to determine if two or more photocopies have a common source, the examination of typewriting and typewriter ribbons, the examination of altered documents, the examination of indentations on paper, the restoration of burned paper, the examination of inks and other types of examinations.
The handwriting of most adults does lend itself to identification. Handwriting examinations involve the comparison of known writing from one or more subjects with the questioned writing. The questioned writing may be on checks, anonymous and/or threatening letters, bank hold-up notes, etc.
Photocopied documents can be matched back to their source by the observation of “trash marks” on the paper. These are extraneous marks that appear on the photocopy but are not found on the original document. These identifying characteristics usually come from marks or debris found on the glass plate of the photocopy machine. The shape, size and relative location of these marks help individualize the product of a particular photocopy machine. Comparison of two questioned, photocopied documents can determine if they had a common source.
Although not used as much as they once were, typewriters are still seen on occasion, and their typewritten products can be identified. Typewriter ribbons also provide a valuable source of information. The QD Section utilizes a Ribbon Analysis Workstation (RAW-1) to “read” typewriter ribbons and prepare a printed version of all of the text present on the ribbon.
Altered documents can be of several different varieties. Erasures can be detected with proper lighting techniques, although identification of the original information may not be possible. Obliterations may take several forms, including the use of opaquing material, marker pens or simply using a ballpoint pen to mark over earlier writing. Special lighting and magnification techniques and the use of the Video Spectral Comparitor (VSC) can frequently reveal the information underneath the obliteration. On checks, the amount may have been altered. The VSC can reveal the presence of different inks in the amount area.
Handwriting indentations are caused when someone writes on the top sheet of a pad or stack of paper. Indentations of the original writing will be impressed into the pages below. The Electrostatic Detection Apparatus (ESDA) is a nondestructive method to develop and preserve these indentations.
While very difficult to work with, burned paper usually retains all of the images from the original, unburned document. With proper handling and processing, a burned document can be reconstructed to reveal its original nature.