Probative value of expert witness’ testimony
This case pertains to a Deed of Sale over a parcel land in Pasay City, originally owned by Spouses Eduviges and Nick Garbo. In March 1977, Eduviges, with the supposed consent and signature of Nick, sold said lot to their daughter, Florence. Florence registered the property in her name in October 1996. In 1996, Florence sold said lot to respondents Spouses Garabato. Thereafter, Eduviges, Nick and Florence died.
Petitioner, Nick’s second wife after the death of Eduviges in 1978, alleges that the sale between Eduviges and Florence in March 1977 was void as Eduviges’ and Nick’s signatures therein were forged. To support her allegation, petitioner presented the report and testimony of a document examiner of the National Bureau of Investigation.
What is the probative value of a handwriting expert’s testimony on cases where there are allegations of forgery?
As a rule, forgery cannot be presumed and must be proved by clear, positive and convincing evidence, the burden of proof lies on the party alleging forgery. One who alleges forgery has the burden to establish his case by a preponderance of evidence, or evidence which is of greater weight or more convincing than that which is offered in opposition to it. The fact of forgery can only be established by a comparison between the alleged forged signature and the authentic and genuine signature of the person whose signature is theorized to have been forged.
In Jimenez v. Commission on Ecumenical Mission, United Presbyterian Church, USA, the Court identified and explained the factors involved in the examination and comparison of handwritings:
x x x [T]he authenticity of a questioned signature cannot be determined solely upon its general characteristics, similarities or dissimilarities with the genuine signature. Dissimilarities as regards spontaneity, rhythm, pressure of the pen, loops in the strokes, signs of stops, shades, etc., that may be found between the questioned signature and the genuine one are not decisive on the question of the former’s authenticity. The result of examinations of questioned handwriting, even with the benefit of aid of experts and scientific instruments, is, at best, inconclusive. There are other factors that must be taken into consideration. The position of the writer, the condition of the surface on which the paper where the questioned signature is written is placed, his state of mind, feelings and nerves, and the kind of pen and/or paper used, play an important role on the general appearance of the signature. Unless, therefore, there is, in a given case, absolute absence, or manifest dearth, of direct or circumstantial competent evidence on the character of a questioned handwriting, much weight should not be given to characteristic similarities, or dissimilarities, between that questioned handwriting and an authentic one.
The opinion of handwriting experts are not necessarily binding upon the court, the expert’s function being to place before the court data upon which the court can form its own opinion. This principle holds true especially when the question involved is mere handwriting similarity or dissimilarity, which can be determined by a visual comparison of specimens of the questioned signatures with those of the currently existing ones. A finding of forgery does not depend entirely on the testimonies of handwriting experts, because the judge must conduct an independent examination of the questioned signature in order to arrive at a reasonable conclusion as to its authenticity.
Here, both the RTC and CA found that the expert witness did not explain the manner of examination of the specimen signatures in reaching his conclusion. The expert witness did not point out distinguishing marks, characteristics and discrepancies in and between genuine and false specimens of writing which would ordinarily escape notice or detection by an untrained observer. The Court also aptly ruled that courts are not bound by expert testimonies especially that the examination was upon the initiative of Nick and Betty and they had complete control on what documents and specimens to be examined by the NBI. Betty, in coming before us, had the onus of showing that the signatures were forged. She fell short of demonstrating that her case fell within the limited exceptions for disturbing conclusiveness of factual findings of lower courts.
-PROF. RAMON ESGUERRA CASE DIGESTS IN EVIDENCE