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The interpretation of shoeprint comparison class correspondences

Abstract

The underlying principles involved in the interpretation of shoeprint comparisons have become a topical subject due to criticisms in the 2009 National Academy of Science (NAS) report on forensic sciences [1]. Difficulties in the application and understanding of these principles were also highlighted in a recent court ruling [2–5]. We report here a survey that may inform some aspects of this interpretation and discuss the implications of findings from this survey in the light of that court ruling and more importantly the NAS report. Five hundred shoeprints taken from student volunteers in Auckland, New Zealand were compared against each other for the presence of any pattern correspondences. Comparisons were undertaken of the full outsole and of smaller portions of the more common patterns. Of the 500 shoe impressions collected 488 (97.6%) were ultimately represented only once in the survey. The greatest number of corresponding patterns was for the most common brand of shoe (Converse Chuck Taylor All Star) and occurred in 3 of 500 observations. No instances of an imitation brand matching the authentic brand were found. Smaller sections of the common patterns showed a greater number of corresponding prints. However, the greatest number of matching partial patterns was again for the most common brand of shoe (Converse Chuck Taylor All Star) and occurred in 29 of 500 observations. We conclude that pattern match alone is of considerable evidential value even when the print is partial.

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