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Footprints and Its Forensic Significance

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Footprints and Its Forensic Significance
person walked on a beach leaving behind footprints
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Footprints are the impressions of foot left by a person on any surface. The footprints are unique to individuals like the fingerprints. There is a possibility in the fingerprints that the culprit may erase the fingerprints or had worn the gloves so the fingerprints must not be available at the crime scene, but it is difficult to avoid footprints.

To avoid the footprints the culprit may wear footwear but then the footwear marks are obtained which are also of evidentiary value at the crime scene. Footprints are potential evidence at the crime scene and are not be neglected. 

At the scene of occurrence, footprints can be complete or partial. The prints have unique individual characteristics like- toe-prints, phalange-prints, crease-marks, pits or corns or deformity or crack marks. 

There are some people who have the unique feature of flat-foot. It is the condition in which the complete instep region of the plantar surface of the foot is impressed on the surface. The curved or flexed area is not visible in the footprint. Such people are restricted in the recruitment of military or police personnel.

Classification of Footprints

The footprints can be classified into three categories depending upon the surface where the footprints are found. They are:

  1. Visible PrintsThese imprints are produced by the dust or particles or stains stuck on the sole of the feet or footwears. They are easy to identify and collect.
  2. Latent Prints The footprints or footwear prints which are invisible to naked eyes are called latent prints. They are the most abundant prints found on the crime scene but are more prone to destruction due to their invisibility. Therefore a careful search is required for their collection and preservation. The prints are first made visible using the powders or oblique light and then collected.
  3. Plastic Prints They are the three dimensional prints usually found on a pliable surface like mud, snow, etc. They are collected by the method of casting.

Collection of Footprints From Crime Scene

Depending upon the type of footprints or footwear prints found on the crime scene, their collection methods are used. The methods include:

  • Photography– It is the most used method for collection and preservation of footprints. It is useful for collecting two dimensional prints which are not readily lifted. Usually polaroid 665 black and white film loaded in a Polaroid CU-5 camera with detachable flash is used for the photography.
  • Lifting– This method is applied for collecting the two dimensional prints. There are various types of lifters are used to collect the footprints:
  1. Adhesive LiftersImpressions found on the smooth surfaces like tiles, metal counters, hardwood surfaces, etc. are collected by using a heavy adhesive lift on the imprint. The lifters are used in conjunction with the fingerprint powders.
  2. Gelatin Filters– If the impressions are found on the porous surface or irregular surface, they are lifted by a rubber sheet with a layer of adhesive gelatin on one side. It is more flexible than adhesive lifters.
  3. Electrostatic DustPrint Lifting Device It is a tool which electrostatically charge the particles present in the dust or soil, that get attracted and then collected on the lifting film. Dry impressions present on any surface can be lifted using this tool.
  • Casting– It is the method applied to collect the three dimensional footprints. The material used for preparing cast can be plaster of paris, paraffin wax or sulfur. Firstly the surface is sprayed with hairspray so that the prints do not get destroyed. Then the casting material is poured on the impression and left for setting. The cast can be removed after that and preserved for the analysis.

Footprint as Evidence in Investigation

Footprints are one of the most available evidences on the crime scene which can give a number of information like:

  • Establish link between victim, suspect and crime scene
  • Number of people present on the scene at the time of occurence
  • Approximate stature of the suspects or accused or the wearer of the footwear
  • Gait pattern of the suspect
  • Movement of the victim or suspect
  • Material, model, size of the footwear, etc.

The legal framework permits the collection of footprints or footwear prints from the suspect.

In India, Section 51 of Code of Criminal Procedure(CrPC) states that police can take the footwear of the suspect into custody to compare with the impressions found on the crime scene. 

Section 5 of Identification of Prisoners Act states that the magistrate has been given the power to direct any person to submit his footprints for the fulfillment of procedure in CrPC for further investigation. If any person refuses such orders then he will commit the offence under the section 186 of Indian Penal Code. 

There is no provision of footprints in the Indian Evidence Act (IEA) and no power is granted to court for trials. Section 73 of IEA only mentions the fingerprints and not footprints.

Conclusion

Though the footprints have potential evidential value, still they are not admissible as reliable evidence in court. They are considered as corroborative evidence. 

There have been many cases in India where the court stated that the conviction of the accused can not be based solely on the footprint evidence and the science of footprint analysis is not well established. The integrity of the footprint evidence, the collection procedure and the analysis is always questioned, therefore it is not considered as helpful evidence.

Footprints and footwear prints are very important evidence found on the crime scene and have a great scope in investigation procedures. Hence, it is important to develop more techniques for their authentic and accurate analysis so that they could be admissible in the court as important evidence.

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