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ATF National Laboratories


ATF Laboratory Examinations

  • handwriting and handprinting comparisons
  • typewriting comparisons
  • obliterations and alterations
  • indented writing
  • plastic typewriter ribbon deciphering
  • photocopy/copier comparisons
  • dating of documents
  • ink and paper analysis
  • examination of rubber stamps, embossed seals
  • characterization of faxes
  • torn or burned documents
  • tire/shoe impressions
  • physical matches of stamps, documents

Handling Document Evidence

  • Identify:
    • use a pencil & write the case & exhibit number on it's reverse side
  • Protect:
    • use a document protector (GSA 7510-00-233-7685) -or- use an ATF evidence envelope (ATF Form 3400.13)
    • do not fold or staple document
    • do not unnecessarily mark or write on document
    • do not attempt to repair damaged documents
    • indented writing analysis is always possible!

Obtaining Writing Samples

  • Collected writings made in the past and admitted by the writer
  • Writings witnessed by another person
  • Legal/government/official documents
  • Any writings produced in the "normal course of business"
  • Dictated obtained from the suspect on direct request
  • Have the suspect write under the same original writing conditions (have the person stand, sit, etc.)
    • dictate exactly from the questioned document
    • do not allow the suspect to see questioned document
    • do not assist with spelling
    • get right-handed and left-handed samples

Collection & Packaging

  • ATF 4473's
  • Always submit the original ATF Form 4473
  • Additionally, if the suspect is available:
    • have them fill out a new atf form 4473
      supplement an ATF Handwriting Form 7130.7
    • Include known "course of business writings"
  • Additionally, if the suspect is unavailable:
    • submit any "course of business" writings
    • submit fingerprint cards if available
    • collect at least 6 known signatures
  • Remember, the more exemplars, the better!

Charred Documents

  • Collection, packaging and transportation of these types of documents is extremely critical!
  • Allow wet documents to dry
  • Do not pick up by hand
  • Work in draft-free area
  • Use a sturdy matrix (piece of sheet metal, etc.) if document must be moved
  • Package in its original container (garbage can, etc)
    in a container which will not allow the document to shift
  • If possible, hand-carry evidence to lab

Typewriter Evidence

  • Submit:
    • all original documents
    • typewriter
    • ribbon (do not wind)
    • all other elements (wheels, balls)
  • If typewriter cannot be submitted:
    • use a new ribbon or mark the original ribbon properly
    • use similar-type paper & type all characters
    • type questioned document & include all typos & pitches available (10, 12, 15 cpi)
    • record location, make, model, & serial # on each sample
    • sign and date all specimens


  • Submit all original documents
  • At each darkness setting, submit 9 copies of:
    • bare glass; cover down
    • plain white paper; cover down
    • paper w/ typed or printed text; cover down
  • Note photocopier location, make, model and serial # on all exemplars
  • Sign and date all specimens


  • Submit the original document
  • Computer generated or faxed documents, mechanical impressions--call the lab for advice

Reprinted with permission.

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