Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The man was convicted of stealing less than $5 of food. (Photo: scribbletaylor/flickr/cc)

Italian Court Rules Stealing Food is Not a Crime If You are Poor and Hungry

The case is 'a new principle, and it might lead to a more frequent application of the state of necessity linked to poverty situations'

Nadia Prupis

Stealing food if you are hungry and poor is not a crime, Italy's highest appeals court ruled on Monday.

Judges with the Supreme Court of Cassation overturned a theft conviction against a Ukrainian man who stole $4.50 (€4.07) of sausage and cheese from a supermarket in Genoa in 2011, finding that he had taken the food "in the face of immediate and essential need for nourishment."

In 2015, the man, Roman Ostriakov, was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay a $115 (€100) fine.

"The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the merchandise theft took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of need," the court ruled on Monday. For that reason, the theft "does not constitute a crime."

The prosecutor in the case, Valeria Fazio, told the New York Times on Tuesday that her office had appealed in hopes of getting Ostriakov a lighter sentence given his desperate circumstances—but had no expectation that the court would decide he "doesn't have to be punished at all."

Maurizio Bellacosa, a criminal law professor at Luiss University in Rome, added that the case is "a new principle, and it might lead to a more frequent application of the state of necessity linked to poverty situations."

However, as an op-ed in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera pointed out, it took three rounds of court rulings before a case concerning $4 of goods, "in a country burdened with [$69 billion] a year of corruption," was overturned. It is "unthinkable" that the law made no note that hundreds of people become homeless in Italy every day, the editorial by Goffredo Buccini said.

A former member of the Supreme Court of Cassation told the Times that the final verdict seemed to rely on an Italian doctrine based on the Latin phrase, "Ad impossibilia nemo tenetur," which translates to, "No one is expected to do the impossible."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Coalition Slams UN Food Summit for Peddling 'Corporate-Led False Solutions' to Hunger

"The U.N. has finally made it clear what 'multilateralism' is all about—paying lip service to the people while skewing priorities for the interests of imperialists and monopoly capitalists."

Jake Johnson ·

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·

'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·

To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·

Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo