Completion of a Full-Time Two-Year Training Program.
Training must be considered the single, most important factor
in determining competency. There is no academic institution that
currently confers a degree that certifies competency in Forensic
Document Examination. According to the American Board of Forensic
Document Examiners (ABFDE), it takes TWO years of full-time training
in a recognized document laboratory to qualify a trainee to a
level of only minimal competence. Training should include the
study of all aspects of questioned documents and expertise is
gained only with the examination of thousands of documents in
a variety of cases.
Experience and Full-Time Practice
The qualified examiner works at the profession full-time. Trying
to practice this profession on a part-time basis makes it extremely
difficult, if not impossible, to maintain proficiency and stay
abreast of the latest developments in the field. To be fully competent,
a document examiner must be exposed to large numbers of cases
over a period of years on a full-time basis.
The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) is
the ONLY recognized national certifying body of forensic document
examiners. While there are other boards that claim to certify
document examiners, those boards were not sponsored (nor are they
recognized) by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences or the
American Society of Questioned Document Examiners. The ABFDE was
organized in 1977 and, at present, certifies less than 200 active
Diplomates within the U.S. and Canada.
Among the minimum qualifications that must be met for ABFDE certification
- Possession of a baccalaureate degree
- Completion of a two-year, full-time training program at a recognized
- An additional two years of full-time independent document work
- The full-time practice of forensic document examination
- Pass a comprehensive written and /or oral examination.
While there undoubtedly are qualified examiners who do not possess
ABFDE certification, those granted Diplomate status by the board
have been formally recognized as meeting certain minimum professional
Qualified forensic document examiners frequently testify as experts
in both criminal and civil trials in federal, state and local
courts and administrative hearings.
Continuing Education and Professional Memberships
Continuing education is necessary to maintain proficiency and
should include attendance and participation in professional meetings,
seminars and specialized training courses (e.g. U.S. Secret Service
and F.B.I. Academy courses on Questioned Documents, Photocopier
and Signature Seminars, etc.).
While membership in organizations relating to forensic questioned
documents and presenting research papers do not necessarily insure
proficiency, they certainly attest to a professional commitment
and imply competence.
National organizations include the Questioned Document Section
of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the American Society
of Questioned Document Examiners and the International Association
for Identification. Local associations include the Southwestern
Association of Forensic Document Examiners and other regional
associations of forensic scientists. These organizations have
stringent membership and attendance requirements.
Equipment and Professional Library
Qualified examiners should have an extensive up-to-date library
with books, professional journals and articles written by recognized
experts. Technical equipment will include such items as:
- A stereoscopic binocular microscope and hand magnifiers to view
documents under proper magnification.
- An Electrostatic Detection Apparatus (ESDA) to detect and visualize
indentations on paper.
- A Video Spectral Comparator (or similar device) to detect differences
in inks with ultraviolet and infrared irradiation.
- Test grids to detect alterations to typewritten documents.
- A variety of cameras with special filters and films.