Handling of non-originals in forensic examination of handwriting
For the purpose of a comparative examination of handwriting, it is absolutely essentially to use the original of the written document in question so that all relevant physical/technical and graphic/optical examination methods can be applied free of any restrictions. Only the findings established using the original can allow the originator to be identified on any substantial positive basis. By contrast, copies or reproductions of any kind lack the key graphic characteristic types required for unrestricted and thus essentially error-free evaluation and examination.
Non-originals merely contain images of the writing which may occur in other (original) documents. These cannot be compared with such documents. Nor is there a sufficiently reliable method available to prove that the writing contained has not been modified and has been reproduced in full. Accordingly, it is not possible to know whether the original of the non-original document ever existed in the form depicted. Even if no such characteristics are discernible, it is not possible to rule out the possibility that the copied or reproduced version of the writing is the product of a perfect (photo) montage combining several separate (original) elements of writing.
In the case of non-originals there is an elementary information deficit with respect to the nature of the lines, pressure and the flow and direction of movement, all of which constitute crucial elements for an analysis to determine the origin of a given specimen of handwriting.
This is the prevailing view expressed in the relevant textbooks (Bekedorf & Hecker, 19892; Hecker, 19933; Michel 1982°) as well as by practitioners and was upheld by the highest court of law two decades ago (OLG Köln v. 30.06.19815 or OLG Celle v. 07.07.19816).
An expert who deviates from this path and makes a supposition concerning the origin of a specimen of handwriting going beyond the first level of probability (i.e. a tentative assessment) overestimates the reliability of non-originals and thus acts incorrectly.
1) Resolved at the annual general meeting of GFS e.V. on June 20, 2003 in
2) Bekedorf, G & Hecker, M.(1989). Grundlagen und Probleme der Begutachtung von Nicht-Originalen. In W. Conrad und B. Stier (Hrsg.). Grundlagen, Methoden und Ergebnisse der Forensischen Schrittuntersuchung (S. 247-271). Lübeck: Schmidt-Rämhild
3) Hecker, M. R. (1993): Forensische Handschriftenuntersuchung. Heidelberg: Kriminalistik-Verlag
4) Michel, L (1982). Gerichtliche Schriftvergleichung. Berlin: de Gruyter
5) NJW (1982), S. 249; StV (1981), S. 539f.; 2f- in Mannheimer Hefte für Schriftvergleichung 1983, 106-109 (Anmerkung von L. Michel)
6) Der Strafverteidiger (1981), S. 608-610; Anmerkungen von L. Michel in Mannheimer Hefte für Schriftvergleichung, 1981, S. 169-181 und 1982, S. 197-199