Expert Article Library

Copies, Not Originals, of Drug Confession Analyzed

Case Name: United States v. Francisco Cabrera Garza (

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, on appeal from Eastern District of Texas

Date: April 26, 2006

Type of expert: Document Examination—Handwriting. Linda James, forensic document examiner

Issue: Is the testimony of a handwriting expert admissible when photocopies of the documents rather than the originals were used in forming her opinion?

Summary of case: Defendant convicted of conspiracy to distribute narcotics based on a confession he signed. Part of his defense was that the signature of the witness on the alleged confession and consent to search documents did not match known signatures of the witness and therefore the witness signature on his confession was a forgery.

Role of the expert: Defense handwriting expert testified that the signature on the confession was not Defendant’s.

Expert analysis: Prosecution argues that the signature on the confession that was analyzed by the defense expert was not the original copy and therefore her analysis was not accurate. The expert requested the original signed document, but it wasn’t produced and she testified based on a copy. Expert agreed that looking at the original signature was the best practice, but the quality of the copies was clear enough for her to use as the basis of her opinion.

The Fifth Circuit ruled that because it was unknown how many times the confession was copied before the expert analyzed it, her testimony was unreliable.

Summary prepared by J. Baik, Student, University of San Francisco School of Law