Italian court rules that stealing food if you're poor and hungry not a crime

This is an interesting ruling, especially the justification used by the Italian high court to throw out the conviction of a homeless man who stole about $7 worth of food from a grocery store.


Judges overturned a theft conviction against Roman Ostriakov after he stole cheese and sausages worth €4.07 (£3; $4.50) from a supermarket.

Mr Ostriakov, a homeless man of Ukrainian background, had taken the food "in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment", the court of cassation decided.

Therefore it was not a crime, it said.

A fellow customer informed the store's security in 2011, when Mr Ostriakov attempted to leave a Genoa supermarket with two pieces of cheese and a packet of sausages in his pocket but paid only for breadsticks.

In 2015, Mr Ostriakov was convicted of theft and sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine.

For the judges, the "right to survival prevails over property", said an op-ed in La Stampa newspaper (in Italian).

In times of economic hardship, the court of cassation's judgement "reminds everyone that in a civilised country not even the worst of men should starve".

An opinion piece in Corriere Della Sera says statistics suggest 615 people are added to the ranks of the poor in Italy every day - it was "unthinkable that the law should not take note of reality".

It criticised the fact that a case concerning the taking of goods worth under €5 went through three rounds in the courts before being thrown out.

The "historic" ruling is "right and pertinent", said - and derives from a concept that "informed the Western world for centuries - it is called humanity".

However, his case was sent to appeal on the grounds that the conviction should be reduced to attempted theft and the sentence cut, as Mr Ostriakov had not left the shop premises when he was caught.

Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation, which reviews only the application of the law and not the facts of the case, on Monday made a final and definitive ruling overturning the conviction entirely.

It's nice that the editorialists think this is a great step forward.  Of course, they don't own the grocery store that was the victim of the theft, nor are they likely to be impacted by higher food costs as a result of people taking what doesn't belong to them.

The "humanity" of allowing anyone claiming to be poor and hungry to steal does not take into account that other great invention of Western civilization: the rule of law.  If someone is hungry, there are many alternatives to stealing, including charity and government food programs.  Why should stealing someone's property ever be justified under any circumstances, especially when the perpetrator refuses to take advantage of other means to fulfill his needs?

It's not the end of civilization if someone steals bread and sausage every once and a while.  But it disrespects property rights and the rule of law if the perpetrator gets off scot-free.

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