From the Naked Eye to DNA, Part One

Documents Contain More Evidence Than You Think


Evidence is everywhere in any investigation but much of it is hidden from view. The key first step to finding critical evidence is to be aware of the possibilities of today's forensic technology. 

This is the first of a two-part series on forensic document evidence, developed in close cooperation with the Miami-Dade (Florida) Police Department Crime Laboratory. (Any opinions or recommendations are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the policies of the Miami-Dade Police Department.)  

The first installment covers traditional document examination, how to select a qualified document examiner, and evidence handling procedures.   

 The second part, which will appear in the March/April issue, will discuss "Star Wars" technology in documentary evidence, including identifying altered writing, recovering erased or obliterated writing, obtaining evidence from indented writing, fingerprint evidence, and DNA analysis. - ed. 

A Different Mind-set 

Documentary evidence is a critical component of virtually every fraud investigation. Fraud examiners are conditioned by our education and experience to look at the numbers, words, and notations on a document to try to fathom their meaning. We also try to figure out how they relate, if at all, to the case we are investigating. What we are looking for is the intellectual content of the document. We are also looking for patent evidence - evidence we can see with the naked eye.

In this article, we are going to examine not just the content within a document but also the physical evidence found on the document. We will also be talking about several types of latent evidence - evidence we cannot see without some sort of technology.

The most basic principle of a crime scene investigation is that a perpetrator always takes something from the scene and always leaves something behind. In a shooting, for instance, a bullet may yield ballistic evidence. Other evidence may pinpoint the locations of the parties when the shots were fired including the distance from the gun to the target. Extractor marks on cartridges found at the scene may match a gun later recovered. Fingerprints may be developed and DNA may be found and analyzed.

The shooter may also take away gunshot residue on his hands, microscopic fibers from the room on his clothes, an injury suffered in the struggle, etc.

Other crimes are no different. Crime does not have to be violent to generate significant physical evidence. We will examine several types of physical evidence that may be available on any document. We will begin with traditional document examination and proceed to DNA analysis.

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