Citing failure of the prosecution to conclusively prove drunken driving charges against actor Salman Khan, the Bombay High Court on Thursday acquitted him of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run and drunk-and-drive case that killed one and injured four persons.
The accident took place on the night of September 28, 2002 outside the American Express Bakery in Bandra, where some people were sleeping on the pavement. The actor resides in Bandra and was returning home when the car rammed into the bakery.
Justice A.R. Joshi said: “The order by the Sessions Court [convicting Salman for 5 years of rigorous imprisonment] has been quashed and set aside. The bail bonds stand cancelled, all fine amounts paid by the appellant [Khan] shall be refunded to him.” Mr. Khan was convicted by the Bombay Sessions Court on May 6, 2015.
While disposing of the appeal against the actor’s conviction, the court said, “Prosecution has failed to establish the case against the appellant of driving and that too under the influence of alcohol,” and asked him to be present in court for the verdict.
On hearing the judgment, the actor wept and waited for over three hours to complete court procedure. He later tweeted, “I accept the decision of the judiciary with humility. I thank my family, friends & fans for their support & prayers.”
The court had earlier observed that there were anomalies in the sampling of Mr. Khan’s blood for alcohol checks.
“The statements of the eyewitnesses were inconsistent, too,” the court observed. One of the injured had claimed that he had seen the actor exiting from the right side of the car and the bodyguard (Mumbai police constable Ravindra Patil) from the left. Another claimed he saw Mr. Khan falling twice, getting up and leaving the scene. A third eyewitness claimed he had seen him emerge from the driver’s side of the car. However, he did not remember whether the car was a right-hand drive or a left-hand drive. The fourth person claimed he had seen the actor on the spot, but had not specified his location.
Chief Public Prosecutor Sandeep Shinde told The Hindu : “The fact remains that an innocent man was killed and four others were injured. Who is responsible for that? What kind of message are we sending out to society? Are we saying any high-profile person can hijack the system?”
Justice Joshi seems to have anticipated this reaction. In his order, he had said: “While we are aware of the public opinion, it is a settled opinion that courts need to decide on law.” The court also said it cannot be swayed by “the profession and status of the appellant and assume guilt.”
The court came down heavily on the prosecution. “It is settled principle that the court must decide the case on material that is admissible as evidence under the procedure of law,” Justice Joshi said in his order. “The evidence presented by prosecution has not been able to reach the level which in the view of this court is needed to establish the guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. Any strong suspicion can’t be enough to hold anyone guilty.”
As soon as news spread that the actor was coming to court, the police arrived to cordon off the area. The actor’s sister Alvira and manager Reshma were present in the already packed court room. More than 100 police officers were deployed to keep lawyers, court staff, and law students at bay when the actor arrived with his bodyguard Shera and brother-in-law Ayush Khurana (husband of his other sister Arpita).
‘Charges not proven beyond reasonable doubt’
Justice Joshi said the court cannot assume guilt or go by public opinion.
In his order, Justice Joshi said: “While we are aware of the public opinion, it is a settled opinion that courts need to decide on law.”
The court also said it cannot be swayed by the “profession and status of the appellant and assume guilt.”
The court came down heavily on the prosecution. “It is a settled principle that the court must decide the case on material that is admissible as evidence under the procedure of law,” Justice Joshi said.
“The evidence presented by the prosecution has not been able to reach the level which in the view of this court is needed to establish the guilt of appellant beyond reasonable doubt. Any strong suspicion can’t be enough to hold anyone guilty.”
As soon as news spread that the actor was going to come to court, the DCP of Zone I arrived with a platoon of officers to cordon off the court area. The actor’s sister Alvira and manager Reshma were present in the already packed court room awaiting Mr. Khan’s arrival.
More than 100 other officers were deployed at the court.
Salman Khan in the eye of the storm
- » Blackbuck case: He was accused of poaching two Blackbucks in 1998 near Jodhpur during the shooting of 'Hum Saath Saath Hain'. He was sentenced to one year prison.
- » Comments about 26/11 attacks: “It was the elite that was targeted this time. So they panicked. Then they got up and spoke about it. My question is why not before? Attacks have happened in trains and small towns too, but no one talked about it so much,” Salman said in 2010. He claimed that Pakistan cannot be held responsible. He later apologised.
- » Aishwarya Rai in the picture: After their presence in ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, the couple’s relationship was in the eye of the storm. After they broke up in 2002, Aishwarya alleged that the actor harassed her, as he was unable to come to terms with the ending of their relationship. A case was also registered by Aishwarya’s parents.
- » Brawl with SRK: In 2008, the two actors allegedly got into a fistfight during a party. The relationship between the two stars has never been the same since then. However, the two actors got back together on a good foot in an Iftar party and SRK attended Salman’s sister’s wedding. SRK visited Salman hours before the verdict on hit-and-run case.
- » Vivek Oberoi’s allegations: The actor accused Salman of "threatening to kill him, abusing and indulging in character assassination." It was rumoured that Vivek Oberoi and Aishwarya Rai were in a relationship.
While dictating the order Justice A R Joshi noted there are anomalies in the process of extracting and testing blood samples of the actor. The court observed that the “missing links create doubt over crucial piece of biological evidence”.
From initial charges to the final verdict, here's a timeline of the case that spanned over a massive 13 years.