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Stealing Food to Survive Is Not a Crime in Italy

A homeless man in Genoa finally caught a break this week when Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation ruled that the act he committed was “not a crime” because it was committed “in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment.”
May 4, 2016, 2:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Karin Corban

Five years ago, Roman Ostriakov, a homeless man from Ukraine, walked into a Genoa grocery store to buy breadsticks. But in his pocket were sausages and cheese, which he had no intention of paying for.

Eventually, a really unsympathetic vigilant customer noticed that Ostriakov had concealed the cheese and sausage (valued at 4.70 Euros) and not paid for them, but not before notifying the store's security.

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This moment of hunger ended up costing Ostriakov six months in jail, a 100 Euro fine, and a five-year legal battle which would take him all the way to the country's highest court.

READ MORE: Homeless People in Italy Threatened to 'Return to the Streets' After Being Served Vegan Food

But it's not all bad news for Ostriakov, who finally caught a break this week when Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation ruled that the act he committed was "not a crime" because it was committed "in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment," the BBC has reported.

In other words, the court ruled that stealing such a small amount of food in order to survive could not be considered a criminal act.

"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 court wrote in its judgement.

The court's decision has since been both lauded and ridiculed in Italian media. Some commentators pointed to the absurdity of needing a first hearing, an appeal, and a supreme court ruling to determine the legality of stealing 4.70 Euros worth of food in a country "with a burden of 60 billion euros in corruption per year." The less cynical celebrated the ruling as "historic," deriving from a concept that has "informed the Western world for centuries," a.k.a. "humanity."

Either way it's a clear win for Roman Ostriakov, who—unlike many other of Italy's homeless—would probably not turn down free food at this point.