Roman Ostriakov stole around $6 worth of cheese and a sausage from a supermarket Genoa, Italy, when he couldn’t afford anything to eat back in 2011. He was caught, tried, found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of €100.
According to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald
, he appealed the decision, claiming it was ‘attempted’ theft because he never made it out of the store with food.
But his fate changed this week when Italy’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Cassation, issued a broad ruling that theft of essential sustenance out of dire necessity is not a crime.
Italian newspaper La Stampa
applauded the court’s decision, publishing an opinion piece headlined, ‘Right to survival prevails over property’.
called the decision unusual, comparing it to the US criminal justice system’s response to crimes of necessity.
Former Washington DC public defender Alec Karakatsanis noted a recent case, Michael Riggs, who stole vitamins from a grocery store, a crime California’s Court of Appeals said was a ‘petty theft motivated by homelessness and hunger’.
He received a 25-year sentence under the state’s three-strikes law.
The US Supreme Court declined to take up the case, with only one justice voting to hear the appeal.
“It's incredible to me that American courts think of the crime as the homeless person stealing, not as the fact that we live in a society where there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people,” Karakatsanis said.
“There's something fundamentally threatening to the capitalist economic order in a ruling like this – the idea that a person is not personally responsible for an action they take out of economic necessity – because capitalism is based on creating that necessity for million of people around the world.”