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Questioned Documents

The Questioned Document Unit of the Michigan Department of State Police Forensic Science Division is located in the Lansing Laboratory. Serving the entire state, in cooperation with the six other laboratories, cases requiring questioned document examinations are submitted to the Lansing Laboratory.  The Questioned Document Unit will conduct forensic examinations in cases that involve "document" evidence.

Examinations are conducted on questioned documents in all types of criminal cases for local, state, and federal agencies. This includes the examination of writing, printing, ink, paper, impressions, typewriting, typewriters, checkwriters, photocopiers, alterations, obliterations, reconstructing torn, faded, charred, burned, or water soaked documents, to name a few.  Laboratory reports are issued to submitting agencies, and expert testimony is given in various court proceedings.  Some of the examination areas are:


Writing and Printing

Writing and printing is examined to attempt to identify or eliminate a writer.  It is possible for writing to be identified or eliminated with known persons writing samples.  Writing and printing is examined and compared with writing samples of known individuals in order to determine whether or not they wrote a particular document in question.  Writing cannot be analyzed for any type of personality trait; this practice is called graphology and falls outside recognized forensic sciences.



Ink can be examined to determine if different inks were used to produce a particular document in question.  Inks that have been obliterated or destroyed through fading, burning, water, overwriting, chemicals, or other means can often be recovered and made legible. Although the Michigan State Police Questioned Document Unit does not offer ink age determination, arrangements can be made to have this type of examination conducted at a federal laboratory.



Paper can be compared with known samples to determine if the document in question is similar to a known sample.Paper can sometimes be dated or traced to a particular source or manufacturer. Paper can also be reconstructed, such as matches reconstructed to their match books, shredded or torn documents, cut documents, etc. Paper that has been burned, water soaked, or faded can often be restored.



Typewritten documents can be identified with a particular typewriter. Typewriting can also be classified to determine what type of machine was used to produce the document. In addition, typewriter ribbons, correction ribbons, and correction materials can be examined to determine if these materials were used to produce the document in question.


Photocopiers, Printers, Mechanical Devices

Any mechanical items used to produce documents can be examined and compared with the document in question.  The actual device (or known samples from the device) is submitted for examination to determine if the particular device was used to produce a document in question.


Unusual "Documents" or Document Cases

Some examples of unusual "documents" are:  writing in blood, spray painted messages on buildings, writing, tattoos, stamps or other potentially identifying markings on human skin, matches found at the scene of a crime for comparison with a known matchbook.



The Questioned Document Unit of the Michigan State Police continues a proud tradition of excellence established by previous members of this Unit.  Members belong to various recognized organizations in the field of Questioned Documents, such as the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners, American Academy of Forensic Sciences Questioned Document Section, the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, and the Midwestern Association of Forensic Sciences.  Attendance at these meetings keeps the unit abreast of current research and issues.  The members of this unit actively participate in these organizations, serving in various capacities within the organizations, in addition to the responsibilities of their caseload.  The unit members also conduct research in the field of Questioned Documents.  The results of this research have been presented at various annual meetings of the professional organizations.