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ISPLA INSIGHTS- Questioned Documents v. 2009 NRC Report Decision of Note

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  • Peter Psarouthakis
    The D.C. Court of Appeals has held on the state of forensic science-that handwriting comparison and identification, as practiced by FBI examiners, passes the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 15, 2012
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      The D.C. Court of Appeals has held on the state of forensic science-that
      handwriting comparison and identification, as practiced by FBI examiners,
      passes the Frye test for admissibility. The case came about as a result of
      the findings in the 2009 NRC report
      <https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/228091.pdf> that concluded,
      "With the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, . . . no forensic method [of
      'matching'] has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently,
      and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between
      evidence and a specific individual or source."

      However, in the matter of Robert E. Pettus, Appellant v. U.S.A. Appellee,
      the appellate court, found that while the report was hardly an unqualified
      endorsement of handwriting analysis, it also did not provide evidence that
      the science community opposes it as a whole. Handwriting analysis has been
      generally accepted under D.C. law for nearly a century. As such, it is
      presumptively reliable and, thus, generally admissible.

      A jury had found appellant guilty of, among other things, first-degree
      felony murder (burglary) while armed, first-degree sexual abuse while armed,
      first-degree theft of a motor vehicle from a senior citizen, and related
      lesser included offenses. The principal issue on appeal was whether the
      trial judge erroneously admitted the expert opinion of an FBI forensic
      document examiner that a piece of handwriting left on the body of the murder
      victim had been written by appellant. The DC Court of Appeals had to decide
      whether opinion evidence of this kind based on comparison of "known" and
      "questioned" handwritings, resulting in the opinion that the same individual
      wrote both documents, met the test of "general acceptance of a particular
      scientific methodology."

      <http://www.jdsupra.com/post/documentViewer.aspx?fid=12a6dfd5-b6b1-4582-bf36
      -5aeab33d6ad5>
      The full decision is at:
      http://caselaw.findlaw.com/dc-court-of-appeals/1593870.html

      Bruce Hulme
      ISPLA Director of Government Affairs
      www.ISPLA,org

      Resource to Government, the Media, and to Investigative and Security
      Professionals



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