Forensic scientist Richard T. Picciochi is a questioned document examiner who can establish genuineness by identifying handwriting, machine printing, paper, writing instruments and inks.  Mr. Picciochi was formerly an NYPD detective and he learned questioned document examination through on-the-job apprenticeship at the NYPD and via training by the FBI and Secret Service.

Before retiring from the NYPD, he participated in cases which included the assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane (the founder of the JDL); the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993; the abduction of Harvey Weinstein who was buried alive for almost two weeks; and the homicide of Manhattan socialite Irene Silverman.  Mr. Piccochi additionally testified at the criminal trial of the Zodiac serial killer in NYC who left behind cryptic notes like this one:

I however, know him best from a financial fraud case we are currently both working on.  In that case, forged signatures were used to illegally access funds in a securities account.  As my expert witness, Mr. Picciochi separately examined the questioned and known writings for letter designs & formations, the relationship of one letter to another, the movement or manner of execution, etc.

He then conducted the kind of side-by-side comparison depicted by this chart:


(Chart Courtesy of Richard T. Picciochi)

In our financial fraud case, Mr. Picciochi might also analyze the physical or chemical properties of documents or determine that documents were altered.  He sometimes similarly searches for latent evidence such as indented writing impressions, faded writing, watermarks or fingerprints.  I have consolidated a few of Mr. Picciochi’s comments about handwriting / signature examinations and they are available below.

“Handwriting is the end result of a long process that starts with the imitation of a penmanship model when we first learn to write. Initially, these writings are very crude and require substantial conscious effort.  Over time, we require less attention and exhibit increased proficiency and skill along with imparting personal changes to the copybook forms.

While handwriting tends to be alike to a degree that we can meaningfully read it, there are individualizing features that distinguish one person’s writing from that of another.  Just as no two people are exactly alike, the handwritings of no two people are exactly alike in their combined writing characteristics.

In a mature writer the physical act of writing becomes an unconscious action or habit.  That is, when a person writes, his or her mind is on the words being written and not on the act of writing.  So, during normal writing, while the writer’s conscious mind is dealing with the message he or she is trying to convey, it is his or her subconscious mind that controls the muscle movements needed to move the pen across the paper.

The characteristics of letter design and formation, the relationship of one letter to another, and the movement or manner of execution (such as skill, fluency, rhythm, shading, speed, pressure, variation, etc.) are unique products of an individual writer.  Forensic Document Examiners study these unconscious writing habits. 

If the questioned and known writings contain individualizing characteristics and they are naturally written, comparable, contemporaneous, and sufficient in quantity I should be able to form an opinion. Any limitations may result in a qualified opinion.”

Copyright 2010 Fred L. Abrams