Hit-and-run: Salman walks free after lower court order quashed

Salman Khan hit-and-run case: According to the Bombay High Court, the prosecution failed to prove that the actor was drinking and moreover driving the vehicle on the night of the accident.

Written by Ruhi Bhasin | Mumbai | Updated: December 11, 2015 6:27 am
salman khan, salman khan case, salman khan verdict, hit and run case verdict, hit and run case, salman khan hit and run case, salman case verdict, salman khan case verdict, bombay high court, high court verdict on salman khan, salman khan news, land cruiser news Salman Khan hit-and-run case: The actor has been acquitted in the 2002 hit-and-run case by the Bombay High Court (Photo by Varinder Chawla)

Observing that “strong suspicion of guilt cannot be used to hold a person guilty”, the Bombay High Court on Thursday acquitted actor Salman Khan in a 13-year-old hit-and-run case that killed one and injured four.

Overturning the order of a lower court, which had in May convicted the actor under charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced him to a jail term of five years, Justice A R Joshi said this was “not a case where prosecution has successfully established its case of all its charges”.

As the court pronounced that he was “acquitted of all charges and the order passed by the sessions court stands quashed and set aside”, the actor broke down.

He was briefly heard humming a tune. The court had earlier asked the actor to be present for the verdict. Khan arrived at the courtroom (No. 43) at about 1:30 pm, accompanied by his sister, Alvira.

In May, Sessions Judge D W Deshpande had found Khan guilty under all eight charges, including Section 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 337 and 338 (rash and negligent driving).

2002 hit-and-run case: Full coverage

In May, Sessions Judge D W Deshpande had found Khan guilty under all eight charges, including Section 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 337 and 338 (rash and negligent driving).

However, the high court said it had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the actor was driving the vehicle and drinking on the night of the accident. It said the victim had died “as a vehicle ran over him when he was sleeping on the pavement.”

PHOTOS: Salman’s life in ups and downs

Justice Joshi, who retires on December 19, also asked the Bandra police station to return Khan’s passport. The Bombay High Court began hearing Khan’s appeal against the sessions court’s order in July.

The high court observed that in a criminal trial, the burden to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt was on the prosecution. “In this case, considering there were various witnesses (in the case of prosecution), there were shortcomings in terms of not recording evidence of necessary witnesses, and omissions and contradictions of injured witnesses. This raises doubts on the offences the accused has been charged with,” said Justice Joshi.

Read | May 6 & Dec 10: The difference between 2 verdicts is an acquittal

“He cannot be convicted through popular perception. Careful analysis of evidence collected is required,” he said. Observing that the prosecution’s evidence was “circumstantial in nature”, Justice Joshi said that “while testimony of Khan’s bodyguard Ravindra Patil could be of a direct nature, the court had already said it could not be considered and the trial court had erred in taking it on record”.

The HC, which has pointed out faults with the sessions court’s verdict during the dictation of its orders since Monday, said “appreciation of evidence by trial court is not proper in accordance to principles of criminal jurisprudence”. It said the sessions court also erred in accepting the bills which were produced by the investigating agency as proof of the actor and his friends drinking at Rain Bar.

ALSO READ: Salman Khan hit-and-run case chronology

Pointing out that there were several hypotheses about the case, Justice Joshi said: “The court must decide the case on material brought on record (which) can be accepted as evidence. It must not be swayed by popular opinion. The court is expected to be impervious to pressure from public.”

Stating that there was no place for general public opinion, he said opinion or perception is formed on the basis of information played through news by media and other institutions. “It is not new that a particular fact is repeatedly said and assumes the status of truth. The truth, however, has to be probed before court of law and established on the principles of evidence and cardinal principle of jurisprudence. This burden cannot be forgotten.”

Chief public prosecutor Sandeep Shinde had earlier argued that Khan was under the influence of alcohol and was driving without a license — therefore he had knowledge that his act might cause a serious mishap. Senior counsel for the actor Amit Desai had said that “the investigating agency was bent on collecting evidence to establish the charges of drunkenness and driving”. He also claimed the testimony of witnesses was “fabricated to suit the prosecution case of consumption of alcohol”.

Read | The witness who stood by his statement till his death

The court also let off Khan on charges under the Motor Vehicles Act for fleeing from the accident spot without securing medical aid for those injured. Justice Joshi observed that since a “violent crowd” had gathered at the spot, the circumstances were out of Khan’s control.

While the court observed that Khan was not driving the vehicle on the night of the accident, the question of who was driving remained unanswered. The defence has tried to establish that Khan’s driver Ashok Singh was driving the car. The court took into consideration that Singh was Khan’s employee and was also there at Bandra police station on the night of the accident. On the theory that there were four people in the car, the court said that the statement of the parking assistant at J W Marriott, who said he saw Khan sitting on the driver’s seat, needed to be juxtaposed with the statements of two other witnesses who mentioned four persons sitting in the car.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told The Indian Express earlier in the day that the Maharashtra government will decide on further course of action in the case after examining the High Court verdict.

In court, advocates, litigants and staff from the court and the canteen rushed inside the courtroom to catch a glimpse of the actor. Countless onlookers tried to take pictures and record videos of the actor, in blatant disregard of court rules.

Khan seemed oblivious to the chaos and stood in the same spot for two-and-a-half hours as his lawyers rushed through the formalities. He waited in the courtroom to sign the required paper work, before leaving at 5 pm.

One of the court staff went up to Khan and took his number. “I went to bhai and told him that my son prayed for his release. He gave me his number and said that he would come and meet me in my house,” the staffer said.

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