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Proprieties and Pitfalls of Language in Expressing Handwriting Opinions

NCJ Number
International Journal of Forensic Document Examiners Volume: 5 Dated: December/January 1999 Pages: 17-19
Thomas V. McAlexander
Date Published
3 pages
Care must be taken that the language of the reports and testimony of document examiners not only be clear and concise, but also be true to the examiner's feelings and capable of being understood by a lay audience.
Special problems arise when forensic scientists attempt to explain their findings in reports and testimony destined for a lay audience. The language used must be as precise as possible without relying strictly on a specialized prose that is unintelligible to those without specialized training. Particularly critical in report writing and testimony is the statement of qualified opinions. The degree of confidence with which an expert holds his/her opinion is open for exploration on cross-examination and might affect the weight to be accorded the testimony by the jury. There is no threshold level of certainty required of an expert before his/her opinion may be admitted in evidence. The document examiner is not required to provide certain answers to all questions regarding the authorship or characteristics of a document before testimony can be offered as evidence. Still, the examiner must be clear in communicating what the science of document examination has yielded in the way of evidence. It is then up to the jury to determine the weight to be given to the testimony. The testifying examiner has the responsibility of convincing the jury of the soundness of the examiner's opinions based on his/her examination of the evidence by using the scientific principles and practices characteristic of the profession. 8 references