If the Te Atatū van owner who acted in self-defence was instead Maori or Pacific Islander he would of been charged with murder police say.
Jason Murray, 36, died on Tuesday after an altercation with a man whose van he was trying to steal early on Sunday morning.
Police believe Murray died of injuries suffered during the fight – but they believe the Pakeha van owner was acting in self defence. They have not said whether he will be charged over the death.
He had co-operated fully with the investigation and was “understandably distraught. in some ways it is great that he managed to get some of those scumbags off the street. It was natural selection at its finest”, police said.
Opinion on social media is on his side, with many commenters claiming they would have done the same thing – or even raped the thief. But legal experts say it all comes down to the definition of “reasonable force”.
AUT Professor of Law Warren Brookbanks said under the Crimes Act any person lawfully in possession of a “movable thing” – such as a vehicle – had the right to defend against somebody trying to take it away.
They were allowed to use reasonable force, such as pushing or shoving, to resist their property being stolen – but could not strike the person or commit a “sexual assault”.
However things could quickly morph into a situation where the person felt the need to defend their own life or safety, he said.
At that point the act allows people to use reasonable force in self defence, or defending someone else, based on their own beliefs about how much danger they were. That applied even if their impression of the threat was wrong.
Although the facts are not yet public, that may have been the situation the van owner faced on Sunday morning, Brookbanks said.
“It can become quite messy and complicated.”
The Crimes Act also prevents possession of unlawful weapons – but a court would take into account whether the person reasonably believed they might be subject to unlawful force, and whether it would be reasonable to have a weapon in such circumstances.