The Use of Handwriting Experts In Criminal Cases
Over the course of the last twenty-five years, I’ve had a lot of cases involving hand-writing expert testimony. One case I had, the client was accused of forging an attorney’s signature at the bank in order to cash a check and that was very significant evidence in the case. I filed a motion basically trying to block the expert from giving his opinion that my client was the one that signed the check, because obviously, if my client was the one who signed the check, that would be significant evidence that he was the one who committed the crime in the case and they didn’t have much other good evidence.
We had what’s called a Daubert hearing. Basically, what that is, is to determine whether or not the judge is going to let the expert testify and give the opinion that the handwriting in the case is the particular defendants. The judge ruled in my favor in that case and basically said no, that was the person that actually put the handwriting on that check. But what judges typically will do – even if they make that ruling – and what they did in the case that I was handling – is they allowed the expert to testify to similarities in certain things and say, okay that R looks like the R – and they could testify to all the things they think are in common with the handwriting of a particular individual or defendant in a criminal case. Obviously, that’s good evidence.
The defense can bring on their own handwriting expert to try to rebut that, but the key thing is you have to try to block in these handwriting cases relating to criminal stuff, them being able to give the opinion as to the ultimate issue in the case. They’re basically going to be able to give an opinion as to whether somebody is guilty or innocent. We obviously don’t want that because that’s strong evidence and that would help convict somebody in one of these handwriting cases.
So, if handwriting is a big issue in your criminal case, you want to get in front of an attorney who has handled cases where handwriting was a crucial piece of evidence. That case I handled was a federal case, and again, that case ended up getting dismissed by the judge because there was a problem with the handwriting and the handwriting expert and also the lead detective in the case because they did some things that were not appropriate and they did them in front of a jury.
So, you really want to attack these handwriting cases, if you’re going to say you’re not guilty versus working out some sort of a resolution with the government related to a criminal case. You have to get your own handwriting expert to evaluate everything. You have to get all the notes and details of their handwriting expert, and then you sit down with your attorney. You look at the information from your handwriting expert; you look at theirs. You use your common sense and make a decision – okay, is this a case worth fighting? Do we have a chance to win? How strong is this handwriting? If they get this handwriting do they win the case or is there still an argument we have left to be able to say the person’s not guilty of the charges.
So, these are all things that need to be discussed with an attorney who has been doing it a long time, knows how to handle handwriting related cases and also can help you make an informed decision about whether you need to do some sort of handwriting investigation, use a handwriting expert, or whether that’s just a waste of time and money related to the offense in your case, because maybe they have other evidence in the case that can prove the crime, regardless of whether they have the handwriting or not, they could still prove the case. If that’s the situation, you’re just wasting time and money on a handwriting expert.
If on the other hand, their case falls apart without the handwriting expert and you’re indicating that you’re indicating that you’re innocent of the crime and you do not want to plead guilty and you don’t want to go to jail and suffer all the consequences that come along with a criminal conviction, you’re going to want to get a handwriting expert, sit down and strategize with your attorney about whether this handwriting evidence is strong or weak and whether you have a chance to win the case in front of a jury if the case goes to trial, and that takes investigation. That takes an expert report from your own handwriting expert, and then you have to sit down with your attorney and make that final decision.
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