Contemporary issues in forensic handwriting examination. A discussion of key issues in the wake of the starzecpyzel decision
Keywords:Daubert Hearing, feature detection, expressing opinions, complexity theory, similarities, differences
A considerable amount of attention has been focused on the field of forensic handwriting examination as a result of a recent Daubert hearing regarding the admissibility of forensic handwriting testimony (United States of America v. Roberta and Eileen Starzecpyzel, 1995). The findings of the hearing provide us with an opportunity to reflect on some of the basic postulates and practices associated with the field, particularly as they are perceived by individuals working within mainstream scientific paradigms. It appears that there are some postulates that are still mounted as underpinning forensic handwriting examination that defy even basic logic when seen in the environment of normal behavioural sciences. Rather than dwell on the possible reasons for this phenomenon, a few basic alternatives to the current explanation of theory and practice will be overviewed. Although what is presented here is largely ‘theoretical’ in nature, it does provide a framework which currently forms the focus of our research. Ultimately, the question as to whether what we do can be regarded as science or a practical skill falls within the frame of reference of those who choose to define those terms. What is important is not that we waste time and effort arguing over the details of which group we belong to, but rather that we concentrate on improving the paradigm within which we all work. The first step in this process is defining what the paradigm is.
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