The Supreme Court of Cassation, Italy has ruled that stealing food from a supermarket out of necessity should not be considered a crime.
Justice Maurizio Fumo observed that stealing small quantities of food to satisfy a vital need for food did not constitute a crime.
Roman Ostriakov originally from Ukraine, was caught pocketing €4.07 (£3) worth of food after a customer spotted him and reported him to a member of staff.
The judgment was made in the case of a homeless man who was caught trying to steal two pieces of cheese and a pack of frankfurter sausages worth four euros (£3.15) from a supermarket in Genoa, in Italy’s northwest, in 2011.
“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,”
the judgment said.
Arrested and sent to court, he was initially sentenced to six months in prison and a 100 euro fine – which he was unable to pay.
His lawyers appealed, but the sentence was upheld. At the second and final stage of appeal – a right for any defendant under Italian law – the conviction was overturned and the sentence annulled.
“The court’s decision reminds us all that in a civilised country no one should be allowed to die of hunger”
“People should not be punished if, forced by need, they steal small quantities of food in order to meet the basic requirement of feeding themselves.”
But it was absurd that the Italian justice system had taken five years to deliberate on an offence involving a theft of just four euros’ worth of goods,
an opinion column in Corriere della Sera daily said.
Although decisions of the Court of Cassation do not create binding precedents for lower courts to follow like those of the US Supreme Court, Maurizio Bellacosa, a professor of criminal law at Luiss University in Rome, tells The New York Times that the ruling will still have significance.
The court applied the Italian legal doctrine “Ad impossibilia nemo tenetur,” meaning, “No one is expected to do the impossible.”
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