Bollywood actor Salman Khan was on Thursday acquitted of the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in the 2002 hit-and-run case. The Bombay High Court, which has been hearing an appeal against a five-year-sentence handed out to the actor by a sessions court in May, said that the prosecution had failed to prove that the actor had consumed liquor and was driving the Toyota Land Cruiser when the mishap occurred, giving Khan "the benefit of doubt".
"The court is expected to be impervious of pressure from public and media. It is for good reason that law of evidence has no place for general public opinion to be a factor while deciding a case. The perception of truth in public is required to be proved before a court of law and in which the established principles of law and evidence must be adhered to. Even the cardinal principle of jurisprudence and burden of prosecution must not be forgotten and any strong suspicion cannot be considered as material to convict a person. Bearing this in mind, it is the considered view of this court that prosecution has failed to establish its case on all charges," said Justice AR Joshi, reported by IBNLive.com.
"On the basis of evidence submitted by the prosecution, Salman cannot be convicted," the judge added.
In a scathing indictment of the previous judgment, the High Court threw out all the evidence that had been considered by the sessions court in May, calling the Mumbai Police's probe "highly deplorable".
IBNLive.com also quoted the court as saying: "Procedure required chain of evidence when case is based on biological evidence. There were some loose ends in the investigation and the benefit is required to be given in favour of the accused. It is duty of the court to sift evidence and see that offences are proved against accused beyond reasonable doubt."
"Considered view of this court is that appreciation done by the trial court is not proper and legal as per criminal jurisprudence. The trial court erred in accepting the bills recovered without panchnama."
The HC also slammed the testimonies of Salman's deceased police bodyguard Ravindra Patil, calling him "a wholly unreliable witness" over the differences in his statements. In the FIR just after the accident, on September 28, 2002, Patil reportedly did not mention whether Khan had been driving under the influence of alcohol. Three days later, on October 1, after the receipt of Salman's blood test report, Patil gave a statement before a Magistrate saying that the actor had taken drinks on the ill-fated day and he had warned him not to drive rashly or else he would meet with an accident but Salman did not pay heed to his advice.
In the early hours of September 28, 2002, Khan's white Toyota Land Cruiser rammed into the American Express Bakery in suburban Bandra, close to his sea-front home in Galaxy Apartments, before fleeing from the accident site. One pavement-dweller sleeping outside the bakery, Nurullah Mehboob Sharif, was killed and four others were injured, leading to Khan's arrest by the Bandra Police later that morning.
Times Now reported that the actor arrived at Bombay HC with a fazed expression, slightly red-eyed but with considerably more confidence than before. He reportedly showed no emotion when the judgement was read out.
(With inputs from PTI)