Authorship Attribution under the Rules of Evidence: Empirical Approaches in a Layperson's Legal System


  • Blake Stephen Howald Georgetown University



Authorship Attribution, Stylistics, Authentication, Expert Testimony


All documentary evidence admitted at trial must be authenticated, i.e. it must be demonstrated that the document is ‘what its proponent claims’ it to be. For authorship attribution, this means that it can be demonstrated that the document in question has or has not been authored by a specific person. Among the different methodologies addressing this question of ‘who wrote it,’ those practiced by law enforcement specialists are often not scientifically reasoned, tested nor empirically sound. Further problematic, the legal standards necessary to support a showing of authentication defers to the layperson’s ability to evaluate the sufficiency of a given technique. In this paper, I will discuss, analyze and pit a survey of current authorship attribution techniques against authentication and expert testimony standards. I will then discuss, through a recent case example, what can go wrong when law enforcement specialists are allowed to testify to the lay jury.

Author Biography

Blake Stephen Howald, Georgetown University

Blake Stephen Howald received his Bachelor’s in linguistics from the University of Pittsburgh, his Juris Doctor from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, and is an active member of the District of Columbia Bar. Mr. Howald is currently a second-year Ph.D. student in the sociolinguistics concentration in the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University. Mr. Howald is concentrating on the discourse analytic, pragmatic and cognitive linguistic aspect of violent criminal interactions.



How to Cite

Howald, B. S. (2009). Authorship Attribution under the Rules of Evidence: Empirical Approaches in a Layperson’s Legal System. International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, 15(2), 219–247.