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
  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 2 max
  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                                                                             10 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 provide the documented attendance for that coursework and the content covered 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 CFDE®  to sit for the CFDE®  Certification Examination, the prospective examinee is given a study guide from which to prepare for the CFDE®  Certification Examination.

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.

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 and attain 20 continuing certification credits in order to remain CFDE®  certified.

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