Questioned Document Examination (QDE): Definition & Purpose

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  • 0:03 Questioned Documents
  • 0:39 Examples
  • 1:37 Purpose of a QDE
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over the definition of a questioned document. You'll also learn some of the many purposes of a questioned document examination with some famous examples.

Questioned Documents

Admit it, you or someone you went to school with has tried to pass off a fake doctor's note or parent's note as real. That document is a questioned document. Any document that may be disputed or queried, especially as to its source and/or authenticity, is a questioned document.

In forensic science, such a document may be examined to determine its origin, authenticity, and many other facets in order to solve a potential crime. This lesson will further explain what a questioned document is and what the purposes of a questioned document examination (QDE) may be.


Expounded Definition

So first, let's further explore what a questioned document can be. The definition from the last section is a pretty broad and, as a result, can include one of a wide variety of documents, including things we don't really consider documents sometimes. A questioned document must contain linguistic markings, and/or numerical markings that have been placed on the document using handwriting, computer printing, copying, typewriting, or some other similar means. The markings do not have to be placed on a piece of paper; they can be placed on any object.


As a result of this pretty general definition and description, something like graffiti on a wall can be, in a sense, a questioned document in a criminal case. Of course, more often than not, questioned documents include paper or plastic-like material, such as that found in:

  • Letters
  • Bills
  • Checks
  • Receipts
  • Wills
  • Passports
  • Driver's licenses
  • Contracts
  • Lottery tickets
  • Or even ransom notes in a kidnapping case

Purpose of a QDE

So why bother examining a questioned document? There are many reasons. Let's go over a few real-life examples to learn about them.

First, answer this. Would you want someone to publish an unauthorized autobiography about you? Probably not. You also wouldn't want them cashing in on what is your life story.

Back in the 1970s, a couple of crook authors decided to forge a bunch of signatures, notes, letters, and an entire autobiography about the famed reclusive billionaire, Howard Hughes. They were eventually caught. But not so much as a result of a questioned document examination - the examiners failed to detect the fraudulent handwriting. Hughes simply caught wind of this and reported them.

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