Forgery opinion – Can a forensic document examiner opine to forgery?

What is forgery?

Forensic document examiners do not offer a forgery opinion regarding the authenticity of a handwritten document. Forensic document examiners opine whether a document contains handwriting not written by the person who purportedly wrote the document. They do not offer a forgery opinion. Handwriting not written by the person who purportedly wrote it is called simulated writing.

Black’s law dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines forgery as: “1. The act of fraudulently making false document or altering a real one to be used as if genuine, 2. A false or altered document made to look genuine by someone with the intent to deceive.”

Can a forensic document examiner opine to forgery?

Document examiners can determine whether a document has been altered or is made to look genuine by another person. They cannot determine the intent of the person who made the alteration or made the false writing. Therefore, they do not offer a forgery opinion.

I have seen situations where a document examiner will stay in the report that a signature is a forgery. Such statements of forgery opinion are troublesome in that an attorney can ask on cross examination how the document examiner determined the intent of the writer. As an example, I could authorize my wife or another person to sign my name on a document. There would be no intent to deceive another on the authenticity of the signature. Famous people such as celebrities are known for authorizing assistance to sign photographs and other memorabilia for them. The reason is so many requests are made that the celebrity does not have time to write all the signatures.

Often these signatures are made by mechanical devices that replicate the person’s signature. Politicians often use these mechanical signing machines to place their signature on letters to constituents. And there is no intent of deception in the signature.

What is a signature?

Black’s law dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines a signature as, “a person’s name or mark written by that person or at the person’s direction.” Therefore, a signature written by another at a person’s direction is a valid signature. Although the signature was not written by the person whose name appears in the signature, there is no intent to deceive.” Therefore, the signature is not a forgery.

Conclusion

Be careful when your document examiner offers a forgery opinion regarding a signature they examined. This may come back as a problem at your trial or arbitration hearing. Let the trier of fact determine whether a document is a forgery.

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