U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Estimate of the Random Match Frequency of Acquired Characteristics in a Forensic Footwear Database

NCJ Number
Science & Justice Volume: 63 Issue: 3 Dated: May 2023 Pages: 427-437
Date Published
May 2023
11 pages

This article discusses the materials and research methodology of a study to estimate random match frequency of randomly acquired characteristics within an opportunistic footwear database.


When analyzing footwear impression evidence, a significant task of the forensic examiner is to determine if a questioned impression could have originated from a known shoe. To form this opinion, examiners typically evaluate the similarity, quantity, and quality of shared class characteristics and characteristics of use. Since these criteria are developed through training and experience, and therefore purported to be subjective in nature, the opinions formed regarding footwear evidence can be misunderstood. One way to mitigate this criticism is to complement casework with research that includes quantitative analyses. The aim of this study was to estimate random match frequency of randomly acquired characteristics (RAC-RMF) in a research database comprised of 1,300 outsoles with more than 80,000 RACs. Based on a combination of visual comparisons (>91,000) and mathematical predictions (>3.8 million), results indicate that 32% of the outsoles in this dataset do not share any indistinguishable RAC pairs with each other, while 19% possess RAC-RMFs of 1 out of 1,299. At the other extreme, the maximum RAC-RMF observed was 49 out of 1,299. These results are based on high-quality test impressions, human assessments, and a single quantitative similarity metric, so they are considered specific to this dataset and method of analysis. Results could differ in other databases and with impressions of lower quality, and therefore should not be extrapolated to casework. Despite this limitation, the results provide a point of reference for how often RACs may repeat in position and geometry on non-mated outsoles, therefore forming the basis for future research. (Publisher Abstract Provided)

Date Published: May 1, 2023