Stealing food out of necessity 'not a crime,' Italian court rules

A homeless man was arrested after stealing sausage and cheese from a Genoa supermarket, worth €4.07 ($4.50).

Story highlights

  • Ruling comes after homeless man caught stealing sausage, cheese
  • He was sentenced to six months in jail

(CNN)Stealing small amounts of food out of necessity is not a crime, Italy's highest court of appeal has ruled.

The ruling was in the case of a homeless man who in 2011 was caught stealing sausage and cheese from a Genoa supermarket, totaling €4.07 ($4.50).
    The 36-year-old Ukrainian national, Roman Ostriakov, had the goods hidden under his jacket as he paid for bread sticks. He was reported to shopkeepers by another customer, and was later arrested by police.
    In 2013, Ostriakov was convicted of theft and sentenced to six months jail and a €100 fine ($115). The ruling was appealed, but upheld in 2015.

    'Essential need for nourishment'

    This week, Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation overturned the conviction entirely. It ruled that stealing small amounts of food to sustain a vital need is not a crime.
    "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 said.
    Therefore, his theft does not constitute a crime, it argued.
    The appeal was brought forward by the General Prosecutor's Office in Genoa, which argued that since Ostriakov never left the premises of the shop with the stolen goods, he should be charged with attempted theft -- not theft.