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Italian court: Food theft 'not a crime' if hungry

By Allen Cone
Italian court: Food theft 'not a crime' if hungry
The Italian Supreme Court of Cassation ruled that stealing small amounts of food out of necessity is not a crime. Shutterstock photo by Sonia Alves-Polidori

GENOA, Italy, May 3 (UPI) -- It's not a crime to steal food out of necessity, according to Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation.

In a crime with striking parallel to Jean Valjean more than 150 years ago in the novel Les Misérables, the court ruled in favor of a 36-year-old homeless man. In 2011, Roman Ostriakov, a Ukrainian national, stole sausages and cheese from a Genoa supermarket. He hid the items under his jacket and paid only for only bread sticks.

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He was arrested by police after he was reported to shopkeepers by another customer.

In 2013, he was sentenced to six months in jail and a $115 fine. The verdict was upheld on appeal in 2015.

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This week, the high court overturned the case.

The court said: "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." Hence, the theft is not a crime, the court said.

Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation, which reviews only the application of the law and not the facts of the case, overturned the conviction entirely.

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The General Prosecutor's Office in Genoa said because the man never left the shop with the stolen goods, he should be charged with attempted theft..

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

The article noted the similarity to Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo's 1862 novel Les Misérables. In the story, Valjean was sentenced to six months in prison in France for stealing bread to feed his sister's children during a time of economic depression.

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