The 2002 hit-and-run case in which veteran actor, Salman Salim Khan, was accused of killing one person and injuring four others was finally acquitted by the Bombay High Court on 10th December 2015. Upon bare perusal of the 305-page judgment, critics (including me), could clearly observe the inability on the part of the prosecution to establish its case in front of the court. The prominent and evident botheration includes the evidence collected in the case, which includes such investigative laxity as key witnesses not being examined and the process of law not being followed. This article, however, will mainly focus on the forensic facet of the case, including errors in forensic evidence procedure, out of the numerous and incomputable apprehensions arisen in the matter.
Corking the bottle
One of the main accusations against Mr. Khan was that he was in an inebriated state while he was driving his vehicle, which caused him to lose control of the vehicle and injure the persons sleeping on the footpath. In order to establish the said fact, he was taken to J. J. Hospital, Mumbai to get his blood extracted and examined to determine the amount of alcohol content in his blood, if any.
Dr. Shashikant Pawar, who extracted the accused’s blood, in his evidence stated that after extraction of the blood into two phials (each containing 3ml) his ward boy sealed the phials as per the standard procedure followed by the hospital. Also, a white coloured bandage was wrapped around the phials along with the seal of lac (red wax seal) on the upper and lower end of both the phials. But, the chemical analyst at the forensic laboratory deposed that when he received the phials, there was no lac seal on them and instead they had been sealed using Tixo tape.
‘Alcohol’ is volatile
Another discrepancy which was brought into light by the accused’s counsel was the inclusion of the word “Alcohol” in the EPR (Electronic Patient Record) register maintained by the hospital and absence of the same on the OPD (Out Patient Department) paper. The defence taken by the doctor on this point was that there must have been some technical glitch in either the carbon paper or the ball point pen which was used by him at that time. Also the thumb impression and signature of the accused appears on the EPR register but not on the OPD paper. These inconsistencies go to show the possibility of fabrication which could have been executed.
Seal the Deal
In addition to the above discrepancies, Dr. Pawar absolutely denies having sent a facsimile specimen seal of lac to the forensic laboratory yet it appears that somehow the chemical analyst received it. This is a standard procedure adopted by all crime scene investigators and medical examiners to ensure that the evidence remains pristine during the transit from the crime scene to the laboratories. The inability to follow the same could bring the medical examiner’s competency in collection of forensic evidences into question. However, what is really the unasked question here is: What does the fact that the seal was received, nevertheless, by the laboratory officials bring to light? An excessively efficient tampering of evidence, maybe.
Another prominent anomaly, the one that really takes the cake, is when the chemical analyst deposed that he had received only 4ml of the blood sample extracted at J.J Hospital. Dr. Pawar had unconditionally deposed both in his chief examination as well as cross-examination that he had extracted a total of 6ml of blood from the accused’s body (3ml in each phial). Could this be supporting evidence to a case of evidence tampering or gross negligence by the hospital staff to insert preserving chemicals in the phials before sending it for examination.
The court does care about procedure
Forensic procedure, like any other procedure, requires the establishment of a link. This link is often referred to as the chain of custody which includes various processes like packaging, labelling, sealing, forwarding, etc. If this chain of custody seems to be tampered with at any point, the link becomes weak thus making the evidence uncertain and illusory. It is necessary to check and corroborate the evidence collected at each stage to ensure that there has been no fabrication. In this case, we see that courts are compelled to not only take the evidence into consideration but also factor in whether appropriate procedural standards have been met in collection and preservation of the presented evidence. The ‘anomalies’ highlighted above, along with the fact that the police had also ignored critical procedures only goes to portray the police in an incompetent light. It is therefore the duty of every participant in the criminal justice system, especially courts, to impress upon the police the necessity to follow protocols and procedures from the starting so that justice does not suffer at the hands of incompetency or corruption.
Written by Hardik Rupal (JGLS ’13)
Edited by Poulomi Bhadra