Annually, the American President and his wife host an Easter egg hunt on the White House front lawn. Far more often than annually, some handwriting experts go on a forensic egg hunt. They diligently hunt for any resemblance between the same letters in a questioned writing and a defendant’s writing so they can support the criminal prosecutor and say defendant, without a doubt, wrote the incriminating document. The following is a short scenario of my technique for a tailor-made way by which you can defend your client from such a convenient method with a convenient outcome from the accommodating expert on behalf of the Plaintiff.
Q. Mr. Expert, do you have your report dated 1-7-2002, in hand? Good. Questions will be based on your report and the two enlarged signatures placed here before the jury.
Q. Read for us what your report says for Q34, which is short for Questioned signature number 34.
Q. You testified today that Defendant wrote that signature, right?
Q. Do you have in front of you what you called, K2, short for Known signature number 2?
Q. Doesn’t that mean K2 is a genuine, honest sample of Defendant’s signature written by himself?
Q. And, based on your testimony, you do not deny that Defendant wrote that, right?
Q. Go to page 2 of your report. Read for the jury the list of “writing characteristics” that you testified prove Defendant wrote both K2 and Q34. While you read, let me write the entire list on the whiteboard so the jury can see them all.
Q. Thank you. Now, in your report you mention that you relied on “several other handwriting characteristics” but did not name them. Please give me specifically all of the other several handwriting characteristics you relied on to support your client’s claim that Defendant wrote both the K2 and Q34 signatures, and I will add them to the list we already have.
Q. Look over the list I have made on the whiteboard here to be sure I made no mistake. Is it a complete list of all the writing characteristics which you observed in both Q34 and K2 and which you compared between Q34 and K2 and which you relied on to say your client is correct?
NOTE: If he says not complete, keep asking him to give all characteristics he relied on until he says the list is complete. The very exercise of doing this will let you argue to the jury later that, one, he made an incomplete and, therefor, a misleading report, and that, two, his direct testimony was also incomplete and, therefor, misleading.
Q. We will now compare the K2 signature to the Q34 signature. They are both enlarged on this exhibit board, so we can refer to them and everyone can see them.
NOTE: If the expert used an enlarged exhibit with both K2 and Q34 on it, that might be preferable to the one you prepared since the prosecutor could hardly object to his own exhibit.
Q. Did you measure the writing size of each signature?
IF “Yes,” he did make the measurements: Q. Give me the precise measurements for the following sizes of the Q34 signature:
NOTE: As he gives each figure, write it on the enlarged exhibit at the right place:
1. The overall length of first name then of the last name.
2. The height of the capital letter of first name then of last name.
3. The height of the tallest lower case, mid zone letter of the first and last names.
4. The length of the “g” below the base line of each signature.
5. Finally for each signature, the height of each lower case, mid zone letter in correct spelling order.
Q. Now give me the same measurements for the signature in K2 as I ask you to.
NOTE: Go through the same list in the same order.
Q. Are these all the measurements among the writing characteristics you said you relied on?
NOTE: You had him tell you what to put on the list of writing characteristics he relied on, so opposing counsel can hardly object.
Q. Now, is every pair of numbers you gave for Q34 and K2 the same size numbers or different size numbers?
Q. For those which are different [which should be all of them!], are they different enough to be by different writers or are they really the same size so you can say Defendant wrote them both?
NOTE: The last two questions show how absurd his opinion is, especially if he says all the differences still mean the same writer. These two questions will end every observation made. If he says they are somehow the same, calmly go to your next question. The jury is not dumb.
If “no” he did not make the measurements: Q. You mean you relied on size of writing but you never measured the size?
Q. That’s okay. You and I will do it together now. Do you have a ruler with you? That’s okay. Use the one I brought. Measure the two signatures for each size factor I give you, and we will write it on the enlarged exhibit.
NOTE: Go through the same five size factors as above. End with the same final two questions.
Q. Now let us look at slant. To make it easy, let us just say slant is to the left, to the right or straight up. We will write your answers on the enlarged exhibit as we go along.
Q. Look at K2. Tell me the slant of each letter as I ask for it, left, right or vertical.
NOTE: Ask about each letter in the first and the last name. Skip the middle initial since Q34 does not have it.
Q. Look at Q34. Tell me the slant of each letter as I ask for it, left, right or vertical.
NOTE: Go through the same list.
Q. How many of these 10 observations of slant in the same letters are the same? How many different? How many you could not say one way or the other?
NOTE: He probably will not know what to do with the threading, which is fine, since it shows limits in his expertise.
Q. For those which are different, are they different enough to be different or are they really the same to base an identification on?
Q. Now let us do some comparative relationships between uppercase and lowercase letters. It should be easy, because we already measured how high they are.
Q. What is the number for the capital letter in the first name in K2?
Q. And for the average height of the mid zone letters in the same name in K2?
Q. What is the ratio between those two numbers?
NOTE: Do the same for the last name in K2 and the first and last names in Q34. Ask the following questions for each first and last name.
Q. What is the number for the height of the capital letter?
Q. What is the number for the average height of the mid zone letters?
Q. What is the ratio between those two numbers?
Q. Let us compare the same numbers gotten from K2 and Q34.
NOTE: The pairs of numbers will all be different enough so they would show different writers for K2 and Q34. This same process is to be used in addressing all the other writing characteristics the witness relied on. If his report or direct testimony did not include a statement that he relied on these kinds of measurements, lay a foundation for challenging him on them by asking did he rely on size-ratio between letters and proportions within words. If he should then say no, I would have armed you with authoritative quotes saying the expert should do exactly that. In this case the opposing expert had already asserted he relied on these traits.
RESULT OF THE CROSS-EXAMINATION:
Defendant was acquitted, and that County’s D.A. office no longer called that handwriting expert. There are occasions where a short discussion like this can give you enough savvy on the technique involved so that you can pull it off without consulting me. But do realize some technical or scientific factor might require an extra special know-how. I therefor take no responsibility for an adverse outcome where I was not consulted or another document examiner was.
During most of World War II, my folks lived in Buckeye, AZ. We raised several hundred White Leghorn hens whose eggs were sold for extra income. My mom hosted a couple Easter egg hunts so we kids could invite our friends for a big party. One time a boy proudly showed Mom an egg she had forgotten to dye. Not quite. A hen had escaped the large outdoor chicken run and laid an egg that rotted by Easter time. When it was cracked, the partially hatched chick was quite odoriferous. The moral to this story is that, just as you must crack eggs to make an omelet, you have to crack every one of an opposing expert’s forensic eggs to be sure none is rotten.