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 Table of Contents  
REVIEW ARTICLE
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 195-203

Exploratory analysis on dictated handwriting samples


1 People's Procuratorate of Fengnan District, Tangshan, Hebei, China
2 Department of Document Examination, Criminal Investigation Police University of China, China

Date of Submission14-May-2019
Date of Decision03-Jun-2019
Date of Acceptance18-Sep-2019
Date of Web Publication11-Dec-2019

Correspondence Address:
Xuelin Gao
No.132, Guofeng Street, Fengnan District, Tangshan, Hebei
China
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/jfsm.jfsm_33_19

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  Abstract 


Dictated handwriting samples are widely used in practice due to their simplicity, convenience, and practicality. However, dictation is typically listed as one of the many collection methods in textbooks and monographs, and there is usually no separate section focusing on dictated handwriting samples. Therefore, further study of dictated handwriting samples will have important practical significance. Consideration of the definition, existing problems, collection techniques, and critical aspects of dictated handwriting samples will support investigators and document examiners in their professional abilities and contribute to the theoretical system of document examination. In this article, an exploratory analysis will be conducted and ideas about dictated handwriting samples will be shared, including the definition of dictated samples, their relationship to experimental samples, practical problems, feasible collection methods, and some critical points that require special attention. Dictation is widely used but problematic because of a lack of quantity and low levels of comparability. Those difficulties are mainly caused by a lack of theoretical study and understanding of the requirements and collection techniques of dictated handwriting samples among first-line investigators. Dictated samples should be collected based on subjective and objective conditions of formation with aims to improve comparability and five similarities. Further studies are needed to improve the theoretical system and practical use of dictated samples so that they can contribute to successfully reaching conclusions in investigations.

Keywords: Collection, critical problems, dictated handwriting samples, experimental samples, exploratory analysis


How to cite this article:
Gao X, Wang Y. Exploratory analysis on dictated handwriting samples. J Forensic Sci Med 2019;5:195-203

How to cite this URL:
Gao X, Wang Y. Exploratory analysis on dictated handwriting samples. J Forensic Sci Med [serial online] 2019 [cited 2020 Jul 3];5:195-203. Available from: http://www.jfsmonline.com/text.asp?2019/5/4/195/272719




  Introduction Top


Based on their collection status, handwriting samples can be classified as “ready to use” or “written on site.” The first type already exists from daily life, while the latter are written according to the requirements of investigators and examiners. “Written on-site” samples can be further divided into dictated and experimental samples, with the latter requiring further special study. Dictation is just one of the collection methods listed in numerous textbooks and monographs, especially in Chinese references, and there is typically no separate section focusing in further detail on dictated handwriting samples. Dictation is the best choice and the most commonly used method in practice if litigants cooperate. Despite their similarities, dictated and experimental samples should be separated as confusion of these two concepts can jeopardize the analysis and judgment of characteristics from both examined and reference samples. This article presents an exploratory analysis and some ideas about dictated handwriting samples based on related references and decades of work experience. We consider definitions, the relationship with experimental samples, practical problems, feasible collection methods, and further critical points that require special attention. Ultimately, we envisage that this article will offer inspiration for investigators and document examiners.


  Definition of Dictated Handwriting Samples Top


The classification of handwriting samples has been discussed for decades. Vinberg and Shaver proposed two types of undoubted document samples, namely freely written samples and dictated written samples.[1] In his monograph, “Scientific Examination of Questioned Documents,” Ordway Hilton found that dictation could deliver the most representative testing samples.[2] In another well-known monograph “Scientific Examination of Documents: Methods and Techniques” from David Ellen, it was suggested that reference sentences should be read to the litigants (writers).[3]

In China, the textbook “Ministry of Public Security of the People's Republic of China” mentions principles that should be adhered to when collecting experimental samples. When collecting dictated samples, the reader should control the reading speed based on the writing speed of the original examined samples. Words and sentences from examined samples should be inserted in reading texts. The writers (litigants) must use the same font as in the examined samples.[4] The textbook by theFirst Academy of Police Officers of the Ministry of Public Security (now Criminal Investigation Police University of China) states that experimental samples are written under the supervision of investigators or related personnel and could be either dictated or directly copied.[5] In the past few years, more researchers and practitioners have studied relevant topics. Mingli and Chunshi argue that handwriting samples should be written following the dictated contents of investigators and judges.[6] Ligen also suggests that, if needed, the arrested could be ordered to write experimental samples following the oral instructions of investigators.[7] In a more recent work, Jia Xiaoguang points out that reference samples should be dictated, not directly copied, if samples need to be collected on site.[8] Shengjiang also suggests dictation as the optimal method for collecting experimental handwriting samples.[9]

It is obvious from the aforementioned references, both Chinese and international, that there is no clear and convincing definition or classification of dictated samples. Dictated samples are regarded as a collection method that can easily be confused with experimental samples, which might then jeopardize the analysis and examination of the characteristics of both examined and reference samples. Over time, dictated samples and experimental samples have become equivalent, both in theoretical research and in practice. Besides, the collectors (investigators, officers, judges, examiners, or case handlers) and the writers (suspects, the examined, the accused, the arrested, or the litigants) are not even referred to using uniform terminology. In this article, statements by Mingli and Xu are adopted, and the collectors are generally defined as “investigators” and writers as “the examined.”[10] Hence, dictated samples are samples which are handwritten by the examined under oral instruction from the investigators after investigators have made contact with the examined, and the contents of the dictated (read) documents should be the same or similar as the examined documents.


  Relationship between Dictated Samples and Experimental Samples: Similarities and Differences Top


Similarities between dictated and experimental samples

Dictated and experimental samples are both after-case samples written on site to meet the special needs of examination. The examined know about the use of the collected samples. Dictated samples are the basis of experimental samples. Experimental samples are a more developed variation of dictated samples. Experimental samples are collected to explain and test whether distinguishing characteristics came about through subjective and/or objective reasons. If dictated samples are sufficient for examination, it is not necessary to collect experimental samples.

Differences between dictated and experimental samples

Different collectors

Typically, it is the case handlers' responsibility to collect dictated samples, although document examiners could also take part. Document examiners act as key participants during the collection of experimental samples. After preliminary study of the examined documents, document examiners conduct analysis of forming conditions and possible forging methods. Particularly in serious and important cases, document examiners should meet the litigants in order to create collection conditions of experimental samples that are more similar to those of the examined samples, ultimately obtaining qualified samples.

Different collection timing

Dictated samples are mostly collected before they are delivered to the examiners. Experimental samples are recollected based on specific subjective and objective forming conditions (e.g., forming conditions and writing methods) of distinguishing characteristics.

Different reasons for collection

Dictated samples are written to complement the “ready-to-use” samples, whereas experimental samples are used to explain the differences found in examination, to obtain confessions and statements from the examined and to rule out imposters.

Different psychological conditions of the examined

The psychological conditions of writers may vary in different types of cases. In civil cases, the examined are normally not willing to cooperate if ordered to write dictated or experimental samples. Where litigants admit that they have written the examined documents in the first place, there is no need to collect more samples. However, if they refuse to cooperate, it typically leads to loss of the case, which is the same result as if they had admitted, which is clearly not intended by the litigants. Hence, litigants have to take a step back, participate in the sample collection, and use other methods to defend their position, for instance, changing the writing gesture and writing speed, or trying to modify their own writing habits through intense exercises prior to the collection. There are three possible scenarios in criminal cases that come down to collecting dictated and experimental samples. Some of the examined admit that they have written the examined documents and are therefore willing to cooperate actively with the investigators and examiners. Some might not be willing to cooperate on their own, but they would write the samples in the end.[11] The rest might directly refuse to write anything in order to avoid document examination.[12]

Different writing conditions and writing (disguising) methods

Mainly designed through case handlers' understanding of the required conditions of the examined documents and dictated samples, the writing conditions of dictated samples may be similar or different to the real writing conditions of the examined documents. Writing conditions for experimental samples are usually more similar to the conditions of the examined documents because they are firstly purposed by the examined themselves and then determined by the examiners according to the analysis of the examined documents. Dictated samples should share similarities with the examined documents in five aspects (writing tools; writing materials; document contents; writing methods such as size, form, and writing style; and writing speed) as closely as possible. Experimental samples should be more advanced than dictated samples and reach ten similarities (the five similarities already mentioned plus a further five aspects, namely writing environment, writing gesture, underlying subject, pen-holding gesture, and disguising method).

Different scope of application

It is typically only practical to collect experimental samples from key suspects. However, in some criminal investigations, dictated samples are collected not only from a few key suspects but also from a broader suspect pool.


  Practical Problems of Dictated Samples Top


Problems caused by collectors

Most case handlers consider the collection simply as a “reading and writing” process due to lack of knowledge and understanding of the methods and techniques. This can lead to distortion of the collected samples that will further affect the accuracy of any conclusions drawn.

Neglecting quantity

One major issue is the neglect of quantity, especially the number of characters. Instead of supervising the situation carefully, some collectors allow the examined to write freely. Most dictated samples delivered for preliminary examination consist of one single page with only several lines of characters written on site or in the courthouse. The quantity of similar and comparable characters with the examined documents is then too limited to meet the requirements of examination.

Overlooking quality

Another problem is overlooking quality. Collectors might have little understanding of the writing conditions of the examined documents and use significantly different tools and materials (size, thickness, and layout of the paper). Even the basic characteristics of the characters (size, shape, style of calligraphy, writing modus, and writing speed) could be different from the examined documents, which directly jeopardizes the comprehensive comparison and analysis of the examined and reference samples.

Only sending in dictated samples

The success of document examination depends on the collaboration between investigators, interrogators, and examiners. Investigators should objectively and comprehensively explain to the examiners how evidence and samples were collected without hiding any information. Examiners need to analyze the case carefully and give investigators guidance where needed. If investigators withhold information and examiners do not understand the case itself, a successful result might not be achieved. Some investigators overlook the importance of “ready-to-use” samples and only send “written on-site” samples for examination, which could delay the examination process or lead to wrong conclusions.

Lack of comprehensive information leading to unnecessary obstacles

Some investigators may introduce the case following (personal) preferences or request an examination based on their own preference.[13] Sometimes, they might intend to mislead the litigant and use the examined document to let the litigants write in a certain manner. In some cases, they could even provide false documents to the litigants and make the collected sample unusable, which would jeopardize the examination process.[14]

Problems caused by the examined

The quality of dictated samples can be directly affected by the willingness of the examined. Some litigants are willing to cooperate, but others are not, and some might disguise their handwriting. There are situations in which litigants are only willing to write the documents (or parts of documents) that they have already admitted they have written, but refuse to write anything else. In extreme situations, the litigants might even refuse to write anything down at all.

Litigants admit and cooperate

Usually, if litigants admit that they have written the examined documents, they write as they normally would when samples are collected. On August 12, 2007, suspect Li stole his employer Gao's passbook, withdrew 30000 RMB, and then fled out of town. After being taken into custody by the police, Li fully confessed that he had stolen the passbook and forged Gao's signature to obtain the cash withdrawal. Together with the investigators, the document examiners for this case firstly photographed the withdrawal receipt and a blank withdrawal receipt with the same design from the local bank. The examiners let Li use the same writing tool (black gel pen) to write Gao's signature in the same position on a copied blank withdrawal receipt and blank A4 copy paper. After a comprehensive comparison, it was confirmed that the examined and comparison samples were written by the same person due to similarities in multiple details such as writing level (Li had only finished primary school), stroke variations, and stroke collocations [Table 1].
Table 1: Signature from the examined document and dictated samples from Li

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Litigants deny and intentionally disguise their handwriting

If the litigants deny that they have written the examined documents, they will do all it takes to change their handwriting during collection. Academic studies have been conducted on intentionally disguised handwriting samples, and intentionally disguised samples are appearing more frequently in both criminal and civil cases.[15] In January 2011, the police investigated a case in which Lv accused Liu of forging his signature on timed deposit and interest receipts and withdrawing cash from his bank account. Liu, a babysitter at Lv's home, denied this. Through comparison, it was found that handwriting samples from Liu (Liu's own signature and dictated versions of Lv's signatures) collected on February 26, 2010, significantly differed from the examined documents in writing speed and style, showing obvious indications of disguise, for example, most characters were in single strokes as if they were cut by a ruler. Later, Liu's pocket book and receipts were collected from one of her relatives. It was then confirmed that Liu had written Lv's signature on the two receipts [Table 2].
Table 2: Details of the examined documents, dictated samples from Liu, and “ready-to-use” samples from Liu

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Litigants deny and write casually

Sometimes, litigants are overwhelmed and cannot remember whether they have written the examined documents. They worry that the examination might lead to confirmation even if they are sure that they have not written the documents. Some litigants fail to fully understand the importance of document authenticity and blindly deny that they have written the documents because they believe that their rights can only be protected if the signatures are forged. All the aforementioned reasons and other negative psychological conditions may influence the writing of the dictated samples. Handwriting might also change when the formation condition changes, for instance, whether they are written unwillingly under supervision or willingly under free and normal conditions.


  Collection Techniques Top


Asking the examined to write case-related statements

Collectors may provide the same writing tools and materials to the examined and ask them to write down case-related statements. In criminal cases, the examined may be asked to write down ideas about the case itself, such as the process and the nature of the case, and anything they want to reveal or report. Similarly, in civil cases, the examined could be asked to write down their opinions on the dispute and whether they know about the content and the writing process of the examined documents. In July 2012, there was an unsigned letter to (Xuě Ying) in a rape case, and the examiners had to determine if the letter was written by Liu. Liu denied that he wrote the letter in the interrogation. Written with blue ballpoint pen on a page of red-lined paper, the examined document was found to be a good reflection of writing habits and characteristics without any signs of disguise. Reference samples included five pages of Liu's statement and defense material written under the supervision of investigators (written on August 9, 2011), two pages of dictated samples (written on August 24, 2011), and ten pages of dictated samples (written on August 25, 2011). All reference documents were written on an A4 copy paper and showed obvious signs of slower writing motion and lower writing skill [Table 3]. Compared to the examined document, it was found through meticulous analysis that the reference samples showed essentially similar characteristics of detailed features, such as spelling errors, writing motion, and arrangement and scale of strokes, despite different writing tools, materials, speed, and character shape. This case indicates that dictated samples can provide solid evidence for examination even when they have low comparability with the examined documents as long as the examined will cooperate and write repeatedly. Inherent writing habits and characteristics could not be fully hidden given the large volume of samples and repeated appearance of the same characters [Table 4].
Table 3: Overview and details of the examined document, defense material, and dictated samples

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Table 4: Single characters from the examined document and reference samples

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Asking the examined to write dictated samples in comparison tables

Many institutions have printed comparison tables for handwriting samples now. Although questioned by some experts, those tables are considered as one feasible way to collect dictated samples. In June 2015, examiners were required to investigate signatures on fifty pages of documents from three companies. Document examiners stepped in earlier than usual and customized a collection plan based on a comprehensive analysis of the examined documents and the specific situation of the case, that is, the large number of examined documents, signatures, reference samples, and litigants. First, the examiners provided three different forms of comparison tables to the investigators. Then, the examiners gave guidance on how to collect signatures from ten suspects (their own signatures and signatures of other names). In total, 84 pages of signatures were collected, which provided a solid base for further examination[16] [Table 5].
Table 5: Dictated samples in three different forms of comparison tables

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Asking the examined to write samples with same or similar content as the examined documents

Dictated content should be the same or similar as the examined documents, and the examined documents should use the same writing tools, materials, and methods (character size, shape, and writing motion). During the process, the collectors should also ask random and unrelated questions to prevent the examined from disguising. The collectors should also control their reading speed and randomly switch between different speed levels. Based on the writing speed of the examined documents, the examined should be required to write with the same speed and slower and faster. If the examined documents have large number of characters and/or signs of disguise, the dictated samples should also be collected accordingly. For instance, more reference samples are needed if the examined documents have more characters. Greater variety in reference samples (e.g., writing speed and style) is needed if the examined documents show signs of disguise. The collection process should be repeated as needed. In July 2016, Sun was suspected of producing and selling inferior products. The investigators sent us eight ledgers (346 pages in total) and one page of Sun's statement. They asked us to determine whether Sun wrote the ledgers himself. Sun claimed that he took over the business from his brother-in-law, Li, and Li had also entered records in the ledgers. Considering the large volume of examined samples and multiple suspects involved, dictated samples were collected along with the examination process. On July 7, 2016, August 5, 2016, and August 11, 2016, the suspect was asked to write, using dictation, the same content with the same writing tool and speed on the same material (print-copied blank ledgers) –5, 9, and 14 pages, respectively. On August 5, 2016, another 25 pages were dictated, and more samples were collected from Li. After 6 weeks of thorough comparison and comprehensive analysis, it was concluded that Sun had completed some parts of the ledgers and Li was responsible for others. Other parts of the ledgers were completed by neither Sun nor Li. Sun and Li later confirmed this conclusion [Table 6], page 18 of the examined document]. After comparison, it was confirmed that the sixth, ninth, and tenth rows on the left and the characters in the first, sixth, and seventh rows on the right were written by Sun. The first to the fifth, seventh, and eighth rows on the left; rows 3–5 on the right; characters in the seventh row on the right and the eighth to twelfth rows on the right were written by Li.
Table 6: Examined documents (written together) and dictated samples from Sun and Li

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  Important Pointers When Collecting Dictated Samples Top


Collaboration and cooperation with investigators to reach “five similarities”

First of all, investigators should make contact with document examiners beforehand to collect samples in a more targeted way. Next, the collection process should be well prepared including use of the same writing tools and paper, for example, lined, manuscript, A4 copy or blank paper, or receipts. The dictated samples should be similar to the examined documents in five aspects (writing tools; writing materials; document contents; writing methods such as size, form, and writing style; and writing speed). The collaboration of investigation and technical examination is fundamental for successful examination.

Avoidance of procrastination, indulgence, and impetuous instructions

Collectors should control and supervise the collection process based on the actual situation of the case and the psychological condition of the examined. If the examined only has limited writing ability, oral guidance of the characters' structure could be given. If the dictated samples indicate a significantly different writing style from the examined document, the examined should first be asked whether he/she could write in another style instead of being given an impetuous instruction to write specific characters in the same way as in the examined document. There was a blackmail case in April 1989 in which the victim's neighbor, Ma, was considered the prime suspect. The investigators gave the suspect detailed and direct instructions on some characters when collecting dictated samples. The character Kua () was especially problematic. On one page, Kua () appeared twice, both missing a horizontal stroke in the lower right part (), which is in line with the normal reference samples collected from daily life. However, on another page, the same character was repeated eleven times in a row, but only the first in the first row and the first in the second row were the same as the normal reference samples. The remaining nine (last four in the second row and all five in the third row) had the same writing style as the examined document [Table 7]. It was later confirmed that the similarities with the examined document were due to instructions from the investigators.
Table 7: Examined document, reference samples from daily life, dictated samples without intervention, and dictated samples with intervention

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Keeping records of dictated samples

In principle, direct copying from the examined documents is not allowed unless the examined documents were directly copied themselves or in some special cases. Dictated samples should be collected and filed immediately after each page is finished to prevent direct copying. The examined should be asked to sign every page in order to confirm the writing date. The collector should also keep records of writing orders to provide information to the document examiners outside the written samples themselves.

Synchronized recording of collection process

With further modernization and digitization of forensic equipment, it is straightforward to record the collection process in a synchronized way. This can be done with a law enforcement recorder or simply with a cellphone. Logically, it would be best to record in secret so as not to affect the normal writing of the examined. Synchronized recording is highly beneficial for examiners to study the writing process and analyze detailed writing motions. It is difficult for investigators' oral descriptions to reach comparable results. Thus, synchronized recording is highly recommended and should be listed in standard investigation regulations.


  Conclusion Top


As a practical and convenient tool, dictation is widely used. However, there are still several problems associated with this method such as lack of quantity and low levels of comparability. These typical problems are caused mainly by first-line investigators' lack of theoretical study and understanding of requirements and collection techniques of dictated handwriting samples. Dictated samples should be considered of equal importance as experimental samples and daily-life reference samples. They should be collected based on subjective and objective forming conditions with aims to improve comparability and reach the “five similarities.” Further research should be conducted to consistently improve the theoretical underpinnings and practical use of dictated samples so that they can contribute to drawing effective conclusions in investigations.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Vinberg AI, Shaver BM. Fanui Duice Xue. Beijing: Law Press; 1957. p. 120-4.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
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3.
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4.
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5.
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    Tables

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7]



 

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