Criminal investigations in the fictional world are exciting and mysterious and most importantly, lead to outstanding results. The genius of Sherlock Holmes may be unparalleled in the fictional world where his supreme powers of deduction eventually linked forensic evidence like prints, cryptography, toxicology to the culprit. The stories have undoubtedly, influenced modern investigations. The Sherlock Holmes story of 1891, The Boscombe Valley Mystery involves extensive use of footprint analysis to investigate a murder and eventually apprehend the criminal. With the development of forensic science, there are various types of forensic evidence, however, the article will focus on footprints. The article will analyze this impression evidence and its role in solving mysteries in the non-fictional world. The evidentiary value of footprints will be examined in relation to the legislative framework in India governing admission of evidence.
With the development in science and technology, forensic science forms an important part of an investigation is both civil and criminal matters. They are used to identify individuals and link them to the victim or the crime scene. They are useful is corroboration of testimonies in court and assist in the establishment of facts of the case. In several cases, forensic evidence can exonerate an innocent person or prove to be a “smoking gun” that proves the guilt of a suspect beyond a reasonable doubt. With the obvious advantages of this type of evidence, greater reliance is placed on forensic evidence than ever before in most of the jurisdictions across the world. It has become an indispensable tool in investigations. The research in the area has increased tremendously to equip the criminal justice system with advanced investigative tools to reinforce justice in society and apprehend lawbreakers.
The Relevance of Footprints in Criminal Investigations
Footprints are a source of forensic evidence used in criminal investigations. It is hard to avoid leaving behind impressions of footprint or shoeprint for a culprit at the scene of a crime, therefore, footprints are likely to be present at the scene. These impressions can be examined by a forensic analyst and used to identify the culprit. Just like fingerprints, the footprint of every individual is unique due to the difference in ridges and patterns and can be used for identification. It provides valuable information about the biological traits of the culprit, like gender, stature, gait, or any possible deformity. Shoeprints can be studied to provide information regarding the ridges, cuts, or any associated sign of wear on the shoe to match the shoe of the possible culprit. Analyzing footprints may even provide information about the number of culprits, the activities that have taken place (dragging an individual or carrying something heavy), the direction and speed of movement of the individuals present, and a possible time frame.
With this valuable information, footprint evidence is quite relevant to criminal investigations and can assist in finding the culprit. However, there are some drawbacks. Latent footprints, footprints made when a person with dry shoes walks on the dry floor, are not visible to the naked eye. It makes it harder to collect any evidence from them. The techniques for preservation of the visible footprint evidence has developed to enable examination and forensic analysis. However, this is limited by oversight. The tracks can be easily missed and disturbed by the responders of the crime or any passerby. The evidence must be collected and preserved carefully and documented. The analysis itself is a difficult and time-consuming task and the available database on footprints may not provide a match. The accuracy of these results is debated and therefore, there are apprehensions in relying on the evidence in the courts.
The legislative framework of India permits the footprint of an accused to be taken as evidence. Section 51 of the Code of Criminal Procedure permits the police to take into custody the shoes of the accused as evidence for comparison with marks found on the crime scene, inter alia. The Identification of Prisoners Act allows the taking of measurements of any person arrested in connection to an offence (for which the punishment is imprisonment for a year or more). These measurements include fingerprints and footprints. Under Section 5 of the same Act, the magistrate is empowered to direct any person to submit their footprints for the purposes of any investigation or procedure under the CRPC. Refusal to comply is deemed to be an offence under Section 186 of the Indian Penal Code. While the Evidence Act does not specifically, mention footprints, there is adequate legal backing for the submission of footprints.
Impression evidence is accepted and not violative of any legal rights. The Supreme Court has ruled in State of U.P v Sunil, that directing an individual to give footprint for corroboration of evidence is not against the right of protection against self-incrimination guaranteed by Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution. Impression evidence is used for the identification of a person and is not considered as “being a witness” against oneself. It is significantly distinguishable from techniques like narco-analysis where subjects are induced to speak in a drug-induced state. Further, the same Court ruled that refusing to comply with the direction of submitting impressions may lead to adverse inference being drawn by the Court against the accused. However, an accused cannot be convicted solely on the basis that he refused to comply with the direction.
Evidentiary value of Footprints
As established above, the legislative framework is well-equipped to bring footprints under the purview of forensic evidence that can be used in Court. However, the evidentiary value of the same is restricted. Evidence related to footprint is circumstantial and weak in form. Back in 1997, the Supreme Court had held in Mohd. Aman v State of Rajasthan, that footprints are not a developed science and they cannot be safely relied upon. The evidence can only be used to reinforce the conclusions regarding the identity of a culprit that has already arrived at based on other evidence. Recently, it has been ruled that evidentiary value of footprint evidence is not well-established and in the absence of any other reliable evidence pointing towards the identity of the culprit, the footprint evidence could not be used. This position has been reiterated time and again as footprint evidence is not considered very reliable.
It is well settled accepted that footprint evidence alone cannot conclusively identify the culprit and it appears that the evidentiary value is lower than that of fingerprints. The Court must be assured that the footprint evidence is genuine and collected by following proper procedure and is not tampered with at any stage. After this, the judges assess the evidence along with other circumstantial evidence to discern if all the evidence unerringly points towards the guilt of the accused and form a complete chain of events that lead to the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused. The courts have positively identified the importance of footprint evidence if all precautions were taken at the time of collecting the evidence, making the moulds, and analysing it.
However, the apprehension to rely on such evidence remains. While footprint evidence has been increasingly used in Court, it is not conclusive proof of identity in India. While there are practical problems in relying solely on footprint evidence presented in court, measures can be taken to increase its reliability in terms of procedures of collection of evidence, presence of witnesses, and the method of analysis and development of databases. This will assist in contracting the search-field during criminal investigations and an automated system of analysis will make the process less time-consuming. Focused research in the area can lead to numerous benefits for the adjudication of justice. Depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, footprints can be helpful in identifying the culprits by linking their presence to the crime scene at the time of the commission of the act.
As discussed, footprints are relevant to criminal investigations and can assist the Courts in identifying the culprit of a crime. Proper procedures must be observed at the time of collection and preservation and all precautions must be taken to avoid tampering with the evidence. Once its reliability in this aspect is assured, the Courts can rely on this important evidence to identify the culprit. Nevertheless, there is a need to continue research to improve the accuracy of footprint analysis to increase confidence in Courts regarding the reliability and accuracy of footprints and form detailed databases about the same. The advantages of development in technology and science must be assimilated into the justice system to yield better results. Footprint analysis can prove to be a very useful tool in criminal investigations to apprehend criminals and convict them in the court of law.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can footprints be used to identify an individual?
Yes. Similar to fingerprints, the footprints of individuals are unique and can be used for identification.
- Is footprint evidence admissible in court?
Yes, footprint evidence is admissible in court within the existing legal framework and can be used to corroborate the evidence that points towards the identification of a culprit.
- Is evidence obtained by footprint analysis reliable?
If all procedures are duly followed in the collection of evidence, reliable analysis can be drawn from footprints. However, usually visible footprints are hard to obtain at the crime scene and problems can occur at the time of collection of evidence.
- What is the evidentiary value of footprints?
Footprints are considered to be a weak form of evidence in India and are not solely relied on to convict suspects. It can only be used to reinforce conclusions drawn by other evidence that point towards the identity of the culprit.