Stealing Small Amounts Of Food When In Desperate Need Is Not A Crime, Rules Italy's Highest Court

“A small theft because of hunger is in no way comparable to an act of delinquency, because the need to feed justifies the fact.”

04/05/2016 2:20 PM AEST | Updated 04/05/2016 2:20 PM AEST
Credit: Tiziana Fabi/Getty Images
A homeless woman sleeps at the Termini train station in Rome in November 2014. This week, judges in Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation ruled that a homeless man who stole a sausage and some cheese did not commit a crime because his actions were fueled by an "immediate need for nourishment."

Stealing is not a crime, ruled Italy’s highest court this week -- when small amounts of food are taken in desperate need.

The ruling was in the case a homeless man named Roman Ostriakov, who in 2011 was caught stealing a sausage and some cheese from a Genoa supermarket.

Ostriakov had hidden the goods, worth about $4.50, under his jacket as he paid for breadsticks. He was arrested after a customer informed the store’s security of the theft; and in 2013, he was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.

This week, however, the Supreme Court of Cassation overturned Ostriakov’s theft conviction, ruling that stealing small amounts of food to stave off hunger is not a crime. The case has drawn comparisons to the story of Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables.”

“The condition of the defendant, and the circumstances in which the seizure of merchandise took place, prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of an immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of necessity,” said the court, according CNN. 

Some in Italy have praised the judges’ ruling as an act of humanity -- one that’s especially meaningful at a time when many in the country are threatened with poverty.

“In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet,” said Carlo Rienzi, president of consumer rights group Codacons, according to The Guardian. 

“The supreme court has established a sacrosanct principle: a small theft because of hunger is in no way comparable to an act of delinquency, because the need to feed justifies the fact,” he added. 

According to an op-ed in Corriere Della Sera, the number of poor in Italy grows by an estimated 615 people every day. 

“[It’s] unthinkable that the law should not take note of reality,” it read.

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