Handwriting expert speaks at Probate Section meeting

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

"We do a lot of probate work, said Michael J. Sinke, Speckin Laboratories, "mainly with documents verifying if people signed the document or if they wrote it out such as a holographic will"

Speaking at the Ingham County Bar Association Probate Section meeting on May 21st at the State Bar Building, he described analyzing a holographic will that was four (4) pages long, "some of it in cursive and some printed."

Sinke was asked to verify if the person wrote the entire document. Using their nine- point scale for identification, his opinion was that "they probably wrote it."

Sinke explained Speckin's scale of identification as follows:

* There are indications they wrote it

* They probably wrote it

* It is highly probably they wrote it

* Or, the highest, they did write it

In the reverse, the opinions will range from there are indications they did not write it to they did not write it.

"Many times," he said, based on the evidence they are given, "we can't come to a positive conclusion whether they did or didn't write it.

What is needed to make an analysis?

It is always best to have the original document.

With the original it is possible to tell if deletions or additions have been made or whether the changes, such as cross outs, were contemporaneous writing or came later. In some cases it is possible to find impressions of page one of the document on page two thus revealing any changes made a later time

Handwriting such as ink signatures or writing must be examined microscopically to determine minute handwriting habits such as pen lifts or added strokes or direction of strokes.

While we "can give an opinion based on a good copy, it is so easy to computer generate a signature, put an ink stamp signature on a document, or to create a good forgery or a tracing" that we prefer to examine originals.

The analyst needs 12 to 15 signatures of the person from the time period in which the document was signed for comparison. There are many things that happen over a life time that can affect a person's writing.

"Age, health issues such as a stroke, medical conditions such as poor eye-sight or drugs can affect your writing," he said. He also needs samples of both cursive and printing from the individual if the document has both styles of writing.

In answer to questions, Sinke said:

* It is possible to analyze the signature for similarities as well as age the ink in the document. It can be determined if the ink was in production at the time it is claimed the document was created. Ink, he explained, has a three to three and one-half year drying time and it is possible to test the ink to see if it is dry.

* When doing an ink analysis, it is necessary to take about 30 "ink plugs about the size of a paperclip end from the ink line," which might obliterate much of the signature. .

* With paperless offices, it is necessary to inspect the computer to see if changes were made and when.

* Watermarks and font styles can be used to date a document.

* Sinke and Speckin Lab will review a report created by another expert, give an opinion on the report and recommend questions for that expert at a hearing.

* The firm charges $250 an hour with a $1000 retainer, which, in the normal handwriting case, is usually sufficient

Michael J. Sinke was with the Michigan State Police for 25 years working as a latent print specialist, forensic document analyst and in crime scene reconstruction. After retiring at the young age of 46, he entered the private sector joining Speckin Forensic Laboratories where he has been for the past 16 years.

Speckin Forensic was started as 'question document laboratory,'" said Sinke, "but over the last 15 years it has expanded to include all areas of forensics." Those services include latent prints, crime scene reconstruction, document analysis, computer forensics, DNA data review, and ink dating.

The first Probate Section meeting of the fall season will be September 17th. Joseph Viviano will speak on the topic of "Underwater Property and Trust Administration."

Published: Mon, May 27, 2013

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