When a questioned document arrives at Forensic Document Unit (FDU), it means someone is going to be held questionable for their wrongdoing.
And it’s the Forensic document examiner’s job to find and trace down every detail that might help individualization.
What happens later? You all know well.
Now, the court will decide what charges a felony or fine (usually thousand to millions of dollars) should be charged.
The following are some questions that I am going to answer related to a legal obligation and changing a person’s fingerprint over questioned documents.
Q1. A person’s fingerprint is found on paper. What does it imply?
It creates a factful link between the person and the questioned document. But, a fingerprint alone can’t state whether the written or printed content is made by the same person.
So, what are the possibilities of getting prints on paper? These are some:
Possibility 1: Person’s fingerprints at corner or edges of Paper
- Implies he/she may handle the paper in the past.
- If prints only have thumb marks all over, it could be a sign of framing someone else— because someone consiously don’t hits their thumb randomly over sheet.
- If all fingers are there in their relative position, it may be possible he touches it.
- Microscopic fibers arrangment around the fingerprint can reveals any sign of patching fingermarks by lifting them someone else.
Possibility 2: If palm prints on Written QD
- He/she may write it.
- Again, before jumping to a conclusion, FDE should also examine the handwriting on paper.
Possibility 3: Prints are Prior to their Use
He/she may touch the document prior to which it was written/printed.
This is because fingerprints alone can’t determine when the person touches the document.
For this, ink analysis can help in age determination when it was written. Moreover, it gives only the relative age of the document.
Know More: Paper Dating Using Watermarks: Is It Possible? Forensic Analysis
That’s the reason why private or legal investigators should study the report of both examinations (questioned document and fingerprint) before jumping to any conclusion.
Q2. Person’s prints aren’t on QDs. Does it mean he/she does not touch or write it?
No, fingerprints can’t conclude their use by that person.
It only states the person’s fingerprints were not on the documents (that’s a fact). Or, you can say, “NO evidence that he/she touched it.”
This does not rule out the possibility that he or she touched or wrote it. Because it’s possible that the person who created the paper did so while wearing gloves.
Another possibility is, the paper has a glossy coating or fingers are too dry to humidify the paper surfaces. Lastly, there is also a possibility that finger marks may be removed by a person. (check whether is it possible to remove fingerprints from the paper?).
And of course, there is a possibility that he/she didn’t touch it.
These all situations make fingerprints non-appearable on the paper surface.
Now, let’s assume that the examiner doesn’t have any fingerprints on questioned document sample (say, handwriting sample). Thus, the only way to come up with individualization is through forensic handwriting examination.
And in case, the examiner concluded a certainty of in their handwriting report, it makes him/her admissible to the consequence of legal organization.
Q3. Can a person charge if their fingerprint on questioned documents?
Yes, unless they justify their prints over questioned documents.
If the fingerprint is found to be non-lifted (or no indication of patching prints), the person has to state the possibility of how his/her prints are on forensic documents.
Failing to clarify their fingerprint’s occurrence, investigators may file a charge for further interrogation in front of the investigation panel or law of court.
Here, the work of the examiner is not only to identify the fingerprints but also to check for the characteristics that state whether the prints are lifted or not. You can check more about: How to know if finger marks are lifted or not?
Q4. Is it legal to tamper a fingerprint on a papered questioned document?
No, it is not. Tampering evidence can’t be legal anyway.
But, you can’t be led to jail for tampering with a paper unless they are/will be used as evidence. And questioned documents are evidence to the cases.
So, deliberately altering, fabricating, falsifying, or destroying them knowing they are a part of the investigation, is a felony (or misdemeanor).
In short, if you try to add or remove fingerprints from a questioned document (or say, by any other means), you will be charged for tampering with evidence.
Moreover, it doesn’t matter whether your prints were on QDs or not— you try to forge it— it is still an offense.
But what if you accidentally alter the questioned document? You are obliged to present your reasonable explanation to prove your innocence. The investigator might ask a series of questions such as:
- Why do you alter it?
- What’s your motive?
- Has someone instructed you to do it? Is your boss?
- Were you under pressure? and so on.
So, if there is evidence pointing to you, you must justify the cause. This isn’t only for QDs.
Thus, deliberately destroying or altering evidence with the knowledge that it will affect the investigation, is a felony. Doing so may result in a lawsuit based on your country’s jurisdiction.
Q5. Can you go to jail for tampering with forensic questioned documents?
Yes, for most countries, offenses related to tampered evidence will lead to imprisonment, a fine, or both.
However, it depends on the severity or intent of the person. Tampering can also be called a misdemeanor or felony depending upon the seriousness, objective, and history of the person.
As per U.S. jurisdiction, a person carries a maximum penalty of prison for 20 years, a fine, or both. For Australia, the charge is a sentence of not more than 10 years in prison.
Similarly for other countries like the UK, the punishable years differ.
- Forensic Analysis of Paper: An Informative Guide to Paper Forensic
- 14 Myths of Fingerprints And Questioned Documents: A Forensic Study
- Paper Dating Using Watermarks: Is It Possible? Forensic Analysis
- Difference between Photocopy and Printed document: Forensic Document Examiner Guide
- Which One should be Preferred: Fingerprint or Questioned Documents?
FR Author Group at ForensicReader is a team of Forensic experts and scholars having B.Sc, M.Sc, or Doctorate( Ph.D.) degrees in Forensic Science. We published on topics on fingerprints, questioned documents, forensic medicine, toxicology, physical evidence, and related case studies. Know More.