Italy Appeals Court Rules That It’s Legal To Steal Food If You’re Homeless And Hungry

Italy's highest court has decided that it's okay to steal food if you're starving and homeless.

Credit: Laurel of Leaves

Credit: Laurel of Leaves

The highest appeals court in Italy recently ruled in favor of a homeless man who was originally found guilty of stealing $4.70 worth of food in 2011.

He stated that his right to survive surpassed the store’s right to property, and the court wrote in their decision:

“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 man, Roman Ostriakov, was originally sentenced to 6 months in jail and a $140 fine for his offense and sought an appeal simply to ask for a more lenient sentence. The court wound up deciding that he did not need to face any punishment at all.

Though the court has not yet disclosed their full reason for their decision, one former member of the Supreme Court of Cassation said that the short decision seemed to rely on an Italian legal doctrine that states, “Ad impossibilia nemo tenetur.”

This phrase is Latin for:

“No one is expected to do the impossible.”

Maurizio Bellacosa, a professor of criminal law at Luiss University in Italy who has often argued cases before the Court of Cassation, said that this application of the doctrine to this case “has a certain novelty” and is rarely applied to the state of necessity.

He went on further to explain:

“Usually the court classifies these cases as smaller crimes, but crimes, as poverty is considered avoidable through the social support system.”

Credit: Newsy

Credit: Newsy

Unlike in America, the Supreme Court of Cassation in Italy does not set precedents for lower courts to begin following, but it looks as though the “state of necessity” argument may be made in the future to defend homeless people.

Provocative responses have been generated as a result of the decision, both in favor and against, and in contrast to the decisions of other countries. One writer, Massimo Gramellini at La Stampa, wrote:

“For the supreme judges, the right to survival has prevailed over the right to property. In America that would be blasphemy.”

The Italian economy has just barely recovered from the 2008 global financial crisis and is expected to continue making a slow and unimpressive economic growth for years to come.

Ostriakov is one of many that has been affected by the economic turmoil worldwide but even when he went to steal the cheese and sausage from the store he was caught at, he still paid for breadsticks with what little he had before attempting to walk out.

What are your thoughts on Italy’s decision to choose the right to survival over property? Please comment on, like, and share this article!


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