CFDE®  shows knowledge

CFDE®  certifies that the forensic document examination services performed (1) are done so by members of SAFE™, the Scientific Association of Forensic Examiners™, (2) meet certain standards, and (3) are done by qualified forensic document examiners that have passed a CFDE®  Certification Examination.  CFDE® , or Certified Forensic Document Examiner™, certification testing is available only to SAFE™ members who meet specific criteria.
The CFDE®  Certification Examination is an in person examination and may be taken at the Annual SAFE™ International Conference. The CFDE®  Certification Examination may also be taken at an authorized, proctored examination center, University, or legal office at any time and date convenient to the examinee and testing location. The CFDE®  Certification Examination will be sent directly to the examination location and will be returned to CFDE® ’s Certification Chair by the testing location.


An applicant must apply to take the CFDE®  certification examination and pay the nonrefundable fee of $150. The fee must accompany the application. Applications received without the current application fee will not be reviewed by the CFDE®  certification committee. A Total of 35 points are needed prior to applying to sit for CFDE®  certification testing.  Points are awarded as follows:

  1. College degree in related field*                                                        5-10 points
  2. Per year experience in the field of document examination                 1 point/year maximum 5 points
  3. Completion of an approved course in document examination**     15 points
  4. Completion of East Tennessee State University Document Course  10 points
  5. Attendance at forensic conference(s)                                                      5 points/conference
  6. Court testimony or deposition                                                                  5 points/appearance maximum 2 testimonies
  7. Teaching a monthly SAFE continuing education class                           5 points
  8. Lecturing at forensic conferences (one hour or more)                          5 points
  9. Published article in a peer-reviewed journal                                           5 points
  10. Attendance at SAFE continuing education class                                     1 point/class
  11. CTS proficiency testing                                                                              5 points

*Forensic Science, Science, Mathematics, Criminal Justice
** Courses approved by SAFE: Reed Hayes, Kathie Koppenhaver. If your formal training was through another established document examination training course such as Andrew Bradley’s training or other, please contact the Certification Chair for a Training Waiver and the requirements necessary for possible consideration of alternate point acceptance.

The CFDE®  Certification Examination is closed book and consists of two (2) sections: a knowledge section and a practical section.

The examinee may bring any equipment needed to perform a forensics examination of documents for the practical section. Equipment may include a flashlight, measuring device, lightbox, microscope, and/or any other device that does not store information that may be used in the knowledge section of the CFDE® Certification Examination.

Once a prospective examinee’s application for certification by CFDE®  has been approved, and the prospective examinee has been determined to be qualified by the Certification Committee to  to sit for the CFDE®  Certification Examination, the prospective examinee is given a study guide from which to prepare for the CFDE®  Certification Examination.

Completed Application and fee are good for 2 years to successfully achieve CFDE® certification.

The entire examination must be completed in one session. If an examinee does not pass the examination, the examinee may retake the examination after submitting a new application and examination fee. Only the section(s) of the examination that were not successfully completed need to be retaken.

Certification remains in effect for 5 years.

Section 1 – Knowledge of Document Examination

100 questions consisting of 15 fill in the blank, 20 true/false, 10 matching, 15 multiple choice, 15 open ended questions, 10 handwriting terminology definitions, 15 legal term definitions.

Scope of the Knowledge Section:

  • Handwriting identification
  • Signature authentication
  • Pen type identification
  • Ink differentiation
  • Indented writing
  • Paper examination
  • Use of alternative light sources: infrared and ultraviolet
  • Photography methods
  • Legal aspects for document examination
  • Font types and differentiation
  • Printer identification
  • Chain of custody and evidence storage
  • Styles of handwriting
  • Preparation of exhibits and reports
  • Methods of alteration of documents and detection of alteration
  • Examination of faxed, printed, scanned, and photocopied documents
  • Use of laboratory instruments such as microscopes, ESDA, VSC, calipers, and light boxes

Section 2 – Practical Ability Testing

The examinee is presented with casework from which an opinion is determined. The casework includes handwriting identification, signature authentication, indented writing, altered document, and/or other aspects of forensic document examination. The practical section results are scored for methodology used, case development, reporting structure, and opinion reached.


Once a SAFE™ member passes the CFDE®  Certification Examination, certification remains in effect for the remainder of the year. Each year a CFDE®  certified member must renew as a SAFE™ member. Certified members must maintain continuing education and expand their professional development over a 5 year period by accruing a minimum of 50 points and going through a Re-Certification process.

CFDE®  certified members may attain the necessary continuing certification credits through a variety of means, including continuing education, speaking at conferences, authoring books and articles on the topic of forensic document examination, and serving as an officer in SAFE™.  CFDE®  certified members should associate their services with the identifier “CFDE® ” or “Certified Forensic Document Examiner” in order to let customers know that CFDE®  has certified the services performed.

Recommended Reading:
• James Conway, Evidential Documents, Charles Thomas Publisher, Springfield, IL, 1978
• David Ellen, Scientific Examination of Documents, Halsted Press, New York, 1993
• Wilson Harrison, Suspect Documents, Nelson-Hall Publishers, Chicago, 1981
• Roy Huber & A. M. Headrick, Handwriting Identification Facts and Fundamentals, CRC Press, New York, 1999
• Katherine Koppenhaver, Forensic Document Examination: Principles and Practice, Humana Press, Totowa, NJ, 2007
• Albert S. Osborn, Questioned Documents, reprint of 1929 ed., Nelson-Hall, Chicago
• Edna Robertson, Fundamentals of Document Examination, Nelson-Hall Publishers, Chicago, 1991
• Robert Saudek, Experiments with Handwriting, William Morrow & Co., New York, 1929

Section 3 – SAFE Certification Chair

To request the SAFE Candidate for Certification Application and study guide contact the Certification Chair.

Reed Hayes, CDE
P.O. Box 235213
Honolulu, Hawaii 96823
Tel: 808-737-0502

Download the SAFE Certification Application 2020.

Payment for SAFE Certification Application

Payment is nonrefundable