October 20, 2006
Handwriting Identification in the News
According to the New York Times today, a handwriting expert, Gus Lesnevich, who was hired by Brooke Astor's court appointed lawyer, has concluded that Mrs. Astor's signature on a change to her will is a forgery. Lesnevich, according to the story, said that
Mrs. Astor “could not have written the questioned ‘Brooke Russell Astor’ signature dated March 3, 2004, due to the deterioration of her ability to write her name.”
Mr. Lesnevich reviewed examples of Mrs. Astor’s signature going as far back as 1992. In his report, he asserts that “in this case, the questioned ‘Brooke Russell Astor’ signature and known signatures of Brooke Russell Astor contain elements of dissimilar letter formations” and dissimilar “execution.” He said the 2004 signature was different from signatures executed less than a month earlier and about six weeks before that.
As we document in our treatise, Modern Scientific Evidence, the empirical validity of the field of handwriting identification is questionable, at best. The Times' story does not give any more detail regarding the expert's conclusion (See full story here. ), but what is provided is a rather thin reed on which to hang such a momentous opinion. His conclusion appears to be based on a combination of biomedical physiological assessment and variability of handwriting in the elderly, premises that almost certainly have either no empirical basis, or which this expert has no expertise. The signature may indeed be a forgery (or not), but no one should think that the expert's opinion on this matter is founded on sound scientific authority.
October 20, 2006 | Permalink
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Tracked on Oct 26, 2006 9:39:09 AM
DLF is obviously unaware of the irrefutable published scientific studies that support the identification or elimination of handwriting by a competent forensic document examiner. A qualified examiner, based on imperical research,is taught to examine all types of handwriting including that of the elderly. The key to any handwriting examination is the training and qualifications of the person purporting to be a forensic document examiner. Mr. Gus Lesnevich is a highly qualified examiner.
Posted by: Sandra Ramsey Lines | Oct 22, 2006 2:18:05 PM
It is instructive that the comment refers to "irrefutable scientific studies" that I am unaware of. She is correct: If there are such irrefutable studies, I am unaware of them. But, alas, there are none. There are, however, a handful of "refutable" studies, and I am quite aware of them. If she, or any reader has any doubt about this, they need only go to the nearest law school library and read Chapter 35 ("Handwriting Identification") of our treatise "Modern Scientific Evidence." If, after reading that chapter, the commenter wishes to discuss details of studies she believes we are unaware of, I am happy to engage in that discussion. As for Mr. Lesnevich, I have no doubt that he is indeed "highly qualified." But being highly qualified in an invalid discipline proves little.
Posted by: DLF | Oct 31, 2006 1:29:29 PM