Handwriting evidence under review in Oregon cases

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PORTLAND, Ore. — More than 30 Oregon criminal cases are under external review to determine if investigations were tainted by handwriting analysts employed by the Oregon State Police.

Problems with handwriting analysis in a Umatilla County case led to the suspension with pay of two analysts last spring. The head of the state police Forensic Services Division was reassigned.

Additional cases may be reviewed, said Lt. Gregg Hastings, a department spokesman. State police said an investigation continues.

“At this time, the complex review has not indicated that any of the analysis work was directly responsible for someone being convicted of a crime,” state police said in a written response to questions from The Oregonian (http://is.gd/3peYRw ).

A state police lieutenant and a Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office investigator reviewed handwriting analysis problems for possible criminal charges. A prosecutor after their June report declined to present the case to a grand jury.

The handwriting analysts under review have worked in the Questioned Documents Unit of the Forensic Services Division since 1999.

Analysts for the last three years have examined evidence in an average of 80 cases per year across Oregon. The work might be handwritten wills, checks, notes in robberies, threatening letters or personal notes.

Capt. Mike Dingeman was named head of the Forensic Services Division on Aug. 1. He said state police are taking the inquiry seriously.

“We are concerned about how this may or may not have impacted people,” he said. “We want to make sure everybody gets due process.”

Handwriting analysis has declined as most communications under review are generated on computers.

Private handwriting examiners in the Midwest and another West Coast law enforcement agency are conducting the review, Dingeman said.

Cases that depend solely on handwriting analysis are rare, he said, and fingerprint and DNA analyses usually are more critical.

The external examination is projected to cost about $30,000.

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