Stealing food is not a crime, says Italian court

An Italian court of appeal has said food theft because of hunger is not illegal. The Supreme Court of Cassation reversed the conviction of a homeless man, Roman Ostriakov, who was given six months in jail for stealing cheese and a sausage worth $4.50. He was also fined $115. His lawyers appealed for a reduction in that fine and got the whole conviction quashed. The court said taking the food, "does not constitute a crime" because he stole a small amount of food out of desperation. It ruled that stealing small amounts of food because of hunger is not a crime.

Many people hope this case will highlight the poverty and homelessness in Italy. They also believe it may mean hungry people who are arrested for shoplifting will not be convicted. A criminal lawyer said the case, "is a new principle", and it might lead to more, similar decisions when theft is "linked to poverty situations". The court said: "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." Italy's La Stampa newspaper said: "In a civilised country, no one should be allowed to die of hunger."