January 23 is National Handwriting Day. So to mark this occasion, let's discuss how to authenticate handwriting in court.
In order to get handwritten evidence admitted into court, state and federal rules of evidence generally require that you first establish its authenticity -- in other words, you must prove to the court's satisfaction that the handwritten document was genuinely written by the person you've identified as the writer.
Here are five ways you may be able to authenticate handwriting in court:
- Testimony of a witness with knowledge. You can authenticate handwritten evidence through the testimony of a witness who knows what the handwritten document is. The testimony must establish that the handwritten evidence is indeed what you claim it is.
- Non-expert opinion. It's also possible to authenticate handwritten evidence via non-expert opinion as to the genuineness of the handwriting, based on the non-expert's familiarity with the person's handwriting. However, this familiarity must not have been acquired solely for purposes of the litigation (see handwriting experts, below).
- Comparison with other writings by the judge. Handwritten material can sometimes be authenticated by a neutral decision-maker (i.e., a judge). The judge would compare the writing in question with other handwriting samples that have already been authenticated.
- Opinion of a handwriting expert. Similar to having a judge compare handwritten documents to determine authenticity, a qualified handwriting expert can also potentially be asked to authenticate a document in court. But keep in mind there are certain requirements that must be met in order to introduce an expert witness' testimony at trial.
- Distinctive characteristics. Does the handwriting have special characteristics? If so, the handwriting may be authenticated by virtue of its appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics, taken in conjunction with the circumstances.
Getting a handwritten document admitted into evidence may seem simple enough, but it can get complicated and even quite contentious. If you have further questions about how to authenticate handwriting in court, you may want to discuss the matter with an experienced litigator in your area.
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