Examination of Photocopies

This information sheet is designed to aid in understanding the capabilities of the forensic document examiner with regard to examinations involving photocopies. It is divided into two parts. The first addresses the limitations of photocopies insofar as the examination of document problems. The second discusses the identifiability of photocopies themselves. This office hopes that this information will help to clarify These subjects and, possibly, be filed for future reference.

Examination of Problems from Photocopies

While it is possible to make examinations and report on problems of handwriting, signatures, typewriting and other such matters from photocopy reproductions (rather than original documents) in most cases the original is preferable for a variety of reasons. Most reports (verbal or written) based on studies utilizing copies are rendered as "qualified," as certain evidence may be difficult or impossible to observe from these reproductions.

If examinations of questioned or disputed material must be made, preliminarily or exclusively, from photocopies, it is important that the clearest reproduction be made available for such examinations. The clearest copies are generally those which were made directly from the original. Copies of copies or multi-generation copies are increasingly less desirable as the number of generations increase.

As reproductions from microfilm or microfiche tend to be of lesser quality than standard photocopies, often times it is advantageous to arrange for examination of the original microfilm on a viewing device. Depending on the quality of the original microfilm, such examinations can often allow observation of evidence which might not be seen from microfilm reproductions.

Signature and other handwriting identification problems examined from photocopies allow examination of individual letter forms, connections between letters and general appearance in many cases, but limit the ability of the forensic document examiner to observe evidence such as speed of execution, lifts of the writing instrument, pauses of the writing instrument and other important evidence. In addition and with special regard to problems involving signatures, the ease with which an individual can reproduce an original genuine writing from one document onto another document using the photocopier is always a consideration. It is possible to make such a transfer with little or no evidence which would reveal such a fraudulent preparation.

Typewriting identification problems examined from photocopies will, in many cases, not be greatly hindered. It is normally possible to identify the manufacturer and model of a machine from a copy. In many cases the defects which allow an individual machine to be identified can be observed from a photocopy, as well. However, this is not always the case and is often dependant on the quality of the copy submitted for examination.

Other document problems are often hindered when examinations are made from photocopies, rather than original documents. For instance, erasures and alterations are often impossible to observe and record from a copy.

Examination and Identification of Photocopies

The examination of photocopies has become an important part of the forensic document examiner's role. It is often possible to identify a particular manufacturer and model of photocopier from a single reproduction made from that machine. More often, and more important in many problems, the identification of an individual machine is possible.

Identification of photocopiers with regard to manufacture is dependent upon the observation of various evidence appearing on a copy which is characteristic of a particular model/manufacturer.

The identification of an individual machine is made possible through the observation of defects which are reproduced on the resulting copies. The most common of these defects are called "trash marks" and are more often the result of dust and dirt particles. These particles are seen as black specks on a copy and can enable identification of one copy with another if the size, shape and groupings of these marks are comparable between the two copies. Defects can also be the result of rollers and other parts of a particular machine.

The period of time that a particular copy was produced can also be identified in many cases, if specimens made from the same machine at around the same time can be obtained for comparison. Due to the fact that many defects are temporary, such as dust or dirt which is cleaned off periodically, defect configurations can help to establish time of reproduction.

Finally, while it is possible to "create" a fraudulent document utilizing a photocopier, often evidence of such preparations can be observed on copies. The pasting of a genuine signature from another document onto a document on which it never appeared and then photocopying the paste-up can sometimes be detected from the resulting copy.

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