The recent developments of the Salman Khan hit-and-run case, in which the court has ordered that the actor be tried for culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Section 304 (II) of the IPC, may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise for him, say criminal lawyers. A charge like this sticks if the prime witness is present. Since Ravindra Patil, the prime witness in this case expired in October 2007, Salman may walk free, feel legal experts.
Senior criminal lawyer Dinesh Tiwari explained the matter: “One cannot rule out the systematic mischief of the police to benefit the accused in this case. Though effort has been made by the prosecution to make the public believe that the police are going after Salman Khan, they have failed to explain why they took so long in applying the charges.”
Speaking about the death of Patil, he said, “The testimony of Patil recorded almost six years ago between January and March 2006 will get discarded after the police raise the charges against Salman under Section 304 (II).” And since Patil is no longer available to give a fresh testimony against the actor, Salman may well go scot-free.
Tiwari added, “Patil was the only prime and crucial witness for the prosecution in this case. All other witnesses are circumstantial witnesses for the incident. As such the levying of higher charges against Salman could prove futile. With fresh charges being levied, the defense lawyers will be re-examining all the prosecution witnesses, only to find more loopholes in the prosecution’s claims, which will ultimately benefit the accused, as the crucial witness Ravindra Patil is no more.”
Senior criminal lawyer Majeed Memon, explained the possible reason behind the application of graver charges against the actor: “Over the past few years, there have been many cases of irresponsible driving which have led to deaths. This triggered a national debate on whether such offenders were entitled to bail soon after arrest. Offences under Section 304 (A) are bailable under the IPC. It was therefore decided that graver offence under Section 304 (II) be applied to meet the ends of justice.”
Explaining how the fresh charges may work in the actor’s favour, he said, “In the Salman Khan case there is noise that the trial was protracted due to vested interests. It is found that the evidence of an important eyewitness Ravindra Patil has already been recorded earlier. If the charge is altered to a graver one after such evidence, the accused is entitled in law to recall the witness for further cross-examination. If the witness is dead and unavailable, his evidence cannot be considered as complete, and as such shall have to be treated as inconclusive and of no consequence,” he said.
Memon added, “In the chance of a graver offence being slapped on Salman, Salman’s counsel would be justified in recalling witnesses for further cross examination, and non-availability of witness would lead to the evidence remaining inconclusive. As such, it shall have to be discarded. The accused would reap the benefit.”
Rohini Salian, former chief public prosecutor who is presently representing NIA, Maharashtra, said, “Once the witness is examined in the court under oath and cross-examined by the defense, it becomes evidence. Since Salman was initially charged under Section 304 (A), adding to or altering the offence calls for cross-examination of the witness.
The Sessions court will look into the merits of the case, and other evidences produced by the prosecution including Ravindra Patil’s statement would decide what charges are made out during the final appreciation of the evidence at Sessions Court. There is also a probability of the accused getting benefit as the star witness is no more.”
Not all bad?
IPS officer-turned lawyer Y P Singh however said that even though the prime witness Ravindra Patil is not alive, his testimony before the lower court will be admissible during the trial at Sessions Court under Section 32 (2) of the Indian Evidence Act. Since the statement was recorded in the ordinary course of business on oath before the court and hence it will have the same evidential value, and the facts stated therein could be incorporated in the fresh trial under Section 304 (II).