Saving Salman: Factors that led to actor's acquittal in 2002 hit-and-run case

A shoddy probe by Bandra Police left the door open for ace lawyers to demolish the prosecution. With a little bit of luck — in the form of key witness Ravindra Patil’s premature death — Salman Khan was home

Acquitting Salman Khan of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run case, the Bombay High Court yesterday said even though public perception was against the actor, the prosecution had failed to prove its case. The judge also slammed the police for leaving several loose ends in their investigation.

 

Salman Khan walks out of the Bombay High Court after being acquitted of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run case. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Salman Khan walks out of the Bombay High Court after being acquitted of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run case. Pic/Bipin Kokate

On the fourth and final day of dictating his judgment in the appeal filed by Salman, Justice AR Joshi said, “Prosecution failed to establish its case on all charges. The burden lies on the prosecution to prove guilt, and not on the appellant to prove innocence. The benefit of reasonable doubt goes in favour of the accused.”

Salman Khan walked out of the Bombay High Court at 5 pm last evening after he finished all bail formalities. Pic/AFP
Salman Khan walked out of the Bombay High Court at 5 pm last evening after he finished all bail formalities. Pic/AFP

The judge began the session around 11 am, and asked the senior defence counsel, Amit Desai, to make sure Salman was present at the time of dictating the final verdict. Desai asked for time, and said the actor would arrive by 1 pm. At the end, the court granted Salman a cash bail of R25,000, and he walked away at 5 pm after completing all the formalities.

Charges dismissed
On the count of drink driving, the judge pointed out that the prosecution had relied heavily on circumstantial evidence, and there were no direct witnesses to prove Salman was drunk that night.

He lambasted the investigation of the case and said there were many differences between the police version of events and the witness statements. He added that there were many shortcomings in the probe, as many people relevant to the case had not been examined. There were also several omissions in the witness statements, which led to doubts over the charges against Salman.

“Investigations should be impartial and not faulty; the police did not follow the established procedure. When collecting biological evidence, they kept several loose ends that went on to benefit the accused. They claimed Salman was drunk, but did not carry out a panchnama while collecting bills from the restaurant.”

Regarding the deceased Nurullah Sharif, who was crushed under the actor’s car on that fateful day in September 2002, the court observed that Nurullah was not killed when the car rammed into him but when the car crashed back onto him after it slipped from the hook of the crane that was to tow it away.

“Nurullah was alive when he was under the car and there are witnesses who said this; when the car fell from the hook, he died due to the impact. The post-mortem report also showed multiple crush injuries,” pointed out the justice.

On the charge that Salman had fled the scene instead of helping the victims, the court said it would have been impossible for the actor to stay and offer medical assistance as a mob carrying rods had already gathered. The judge concluded that Section 134 (duty of driver in case of accident and injury to a person) of the Motor Vehicle Act could not be applied against the actor.

Who was driving?
Although the judge did not touch upon this subject, the question still remains of who was driving the car that killed one labourer and injured four others at Bandra in the wee hours of September 28, 2002.

The state will likely appeal against the acquittal in the Supreme Court, and Mumbai Police is expected to stick to its theory that Salman was at the wheel. The defence has, so far, maintained that it was Salman’s driver Ashok Singh who was driving. Thirteen years after the incident, Ashok had even appeared in the Sessions court and taken the blame.

 

Public opinion plays no part in law: HC
Justice AR Joshi, while dictating his order, pointed out that the case had received extensive media coverage, and public opinion seemed to be heavily against the actor.

“Public opinion or perception is mainly gathered on the basis of information and news played by other institutions. When something is said repeatedly, it assumes the status of truth and the general public at large is convinced of it,” he said, adding however, that in the court of law, the burden of proof had to be met.

“The court is expected to be impervious to pressure from the public. It is with good reason that the law of evidence has no place for general public opinion while deciding a case,” he said, adding, “Perception of truth has to be proved before the court of law. Established principles of evidence must be adhered to, along with the cardinal principles of jurisprudence, and the burden can’t be forgotten. Strong suspicion cannot be used to prove a person guilty.”

— Inputs by Sailee Dhayalkar


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