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Book Review of Forensic Handwriting Identification: Fundamental Concepts and Principles (by Morris), by Held (Forensic Science Communications, October 2001)

Book Review of Forensic Handwriting Identification: Fundamental Concepts and Principles (by Morris), by Held (Forensic Science Communications, October 2001)

October 2001 - Volume 4 - Number 4

Book Review

Forensic Handwriting Identification:
Fundamental Concepts and Principles

By Ron N. Morris
Academic Press, San Diego, California, 2000
ISBN 0-12-507640-1

Reviewed by:

Dorothy-Anne E. Held
Questioned Document Examiner
Questioned Documents Unit
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, DC

In the introduction to his book Forensic Handwriting Identification, Ron N. Morris states that the purposes of the volume are to aid the following individuals: “... the investigator who must rely on handwriting comparison to assist him in his investigations, the attorney who retains the services of [a forensic document examiner] or has to use his services during a trial.” He asserts further that “It can also be used by trainees of the profession....” It is an ambitious undertaking to meet the needs of this varied group. Does Mr. Morris succeed?

The book is primarily devoted to the physiological aspects of writing and examines, in some detail, various movements associated with writing. As a natural outgrowth of this, the author discusses some but by no means all features of handwriting which are considered during a handwriting comparison examination. This information is of very limited use to the investigator and/or the attorney, but it provides considerable interesting information to the document examiner trainee.

Morris’ discussion of the substance and principles of questioned document examinations is thorough. However, some of the views expressed are open to misunderstanding. For example, he notes on page 148, “This does not mean that a naturally written sample cannot be compared with a disguised or unnaturally written questioned document.” A statement of this kind leads to the assumption that comparisons involving distorted writing are viable, useful, and lead to meaningful results.

Early in the book (page 15), while noting that a forensic document examiner does not determine character or personality from his/her examinations, he goes on to say “... personality and character can influence how a person writes. For example, self-assurance, sincerity, carelessness, imagination, aesthetic taste, etc., can all have an impact on the artistic nature of a person’s writing.” Speculations regarding personality traits do not come under the purview of a professional document examiner, and considerations of them should not be encouraged.

The final few chapters of the book, which deal with the submission of questioned document materials for examination and in the courtroom, contain much information valuable to the investigator and attorney. Morris’ discussion of taking and collecting exemplars is very thorough, and his final chapter offers a step-by-step protocol for preparing both attorney and examiner for testimony.

Portions of the book are repetitive and might have benefited from judicious editing. Throughout the book Morris refers to the standard texts of the field of document examination. He also shows a heavy dependence on some that are less well regarded. With these caveats, however, the book does fulfill its stated purposes. It could be of value to interested individuals but, as with any such text, should be considered as only one component in a varied program of readings in the field of handwriting and its identification.