Forensic footwear evidence

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Forensic footwear evidence can be used in legal proceedings to help prove that a shoe was at a crime scene. Footwear evidence is often the most abundant form of evidence at a crime scene and in some cases can prove to be as specific as a fingerprint. Initially investigators will look to identify the make and model of the shoe or trainer which made an impression. This can be done visually or by comparison with evidence in a database both methods focus heavily on pattern recognition and brand or logo marks. Information about the footwear can be gained from the analysis of wear patterns which are dependent on angle of footfall and weight distribution. Detailed examination of footwear impressions can help to link a specific piece of footwear to a footwear imprint as each shoe will have unique characteristics.

Types of footwear evidence[edit]

Footwear evidence can come in at least three forms, footwear outsole impressions, footwear insole impressions and footwear trace evidence.

Footwear outsole impressions[edit]

Footwear outsole impressions are impressions left on an object that was caused by contact with a piece of footwear. These can be left on the ground or raised surface by persons treading over it, left on doors or walls by persons attempting to kick or climb over a wall or even left on other persons after being kicked or stomped on.

There can also be latent impressions not easily visible to the naked eye, on many different surfaces such as floor tiles, concrete or even carpet. Detection may require the use of additional specialized light sources such as portable ultraviolet lighting. Recovery typically includes photography as well as lifting with "gel" or "electrostatic" dust lifters.

Footwear insole imprints[edit]

Footwear insole imprints are imprints left in the inside of footwear caused by contact from the person’s foot. Analysis of the insole imprints can be used to link a person(s) to a piece of footwear.

Footwear trace evidence[edit]

Footwear trace evidence is trace evidence that is recovered from footwear. Types of trace evidence that could be recovered include skin, glass fragments, body hair, fibers from clothing or carpets, soil particles, dust and bodily fluids. The study of this trace evidence could be used to link a piece of footwear to a location or owner. DNA can be one of the contributing factors in forensic footwear evidence.

Detection of footwear evidence[edit]

Shoeprints left on a dusty surface.

Footwear impressions can be detected with a variety of methods including:

  • Using artificial light sources to provide oblique, coaxial, and polarized light for detection of visible and latent impressions.
  • Using electrostatic lifting devices to lift dusty impressions.
  • Using physical or chemical enhancement methods to develop or enhance faint impressions.

Recovery of footwear impression evidence[edit]

Footwear evidence occurs most often as either footwear impressions left in a soft surface, such as mud or as dust deposits, which are difficult for the human eye to detect. At violent crimescenes footmarks can be left as a result of a person standing in blood and subsequently trailing it as they move around the scene.


Footwear impressions can be lifted from surfaces with tools such as adhesive lifters, gelatin lifters or electrostatic lifting devices.


Evidence left via impressions can generally be recovered utilizing a plaster cast. Initially the impression is isolated by framing the area with a solid boundary. Following this a plaster mix can be gently poured inside the frame, it is generally considered not best practice to pour directly onto the impression. In some cases where the surface is not ideal for casting prior techniques can be utilised to gain a better cast of the impression. Sand can often be fixed in place by applying an aerosol resin or glue although hair spray is often used. Wet mud impressions can be dried using a combination of pipetting water from the surface and applying hot air, often in the form of a hair dryer.

Examination of footwear impressions evidence[edit]

Footwear impression can be used by examiners to obtain information the following information:

Footwear manufacturer, model and size: Examination of footwear impression for "Class Characteristics" such as general outsole patterns and shapes, footwear design features and feature markings can help examiners identify the manufacturer, model and size of the footwear. This information can be used to help by placing a suspect at a crime scene.
Approximate height and wearer: Measurements of footwear impression dimensions can be used to provide the approximate height of a suspect. With shoeprint size information, investigators can refer to statistical data to approximate the height of the person since shoeprint vs. height relationship follows a normal distribution. Height can also be approximate by stride length which could be measured from a set of footwear impressions.
Activity of wearer when imprint was made: Analysis of a plastic footwear impression can also be used help determine the activity of the wearing when the imprint was made. The footwear imprint left by person is different when they are walking, running or carry heavy loads. A footwear impression left by running person will typically deeper in the heel and toe sections of the shoeprint. A person carrying a heavy load such as a body will cause deeper prints than a person not carrying anything.
Establish link between footwear impression and specific piece of footwear: A specific piece of footwear can be linked to a specific footwear impression with careful analysis. Every piece of footwear will show different amounts of tread wear, different amounts of damage in the form of tiny cuts and nicks. These unique characteristics will also show on the impression left by the footwear.

Limitations of footwear evidence[edit]

The Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, was known to keep shoes with smaller soles attached to the base in order to confuse investigators about the size of the suspect's feet.[1]

Footwear databases[edit]

Forensic investigators can use computerized footwear databases to quickly compare the class characteristics such as tread design and possibly identify a manufacturer, brand, and model to the ones stored in the database.

Foster and Freeman

Raven technologies


High Profile Cases[edit]


  1. ^ " - Newly Released Unabomber Evidence Offers New Insights". Fox News. 2006-11-29. To evade authorities chasing him, Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski kept shoes with smaller soles attached to the bottom in his reclusive Montana cabin, according to evidence released 10 years after his capture 

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