‘Steal­ing food not a crime if you are needy’

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Story Hinck­ley — Cour­tesy: The Chris­tian Science Mon­i­tor

RO­MAN Os­tri­akov, a home less man who stole •4.07 ($4.50) worth of cheese and sausage, is not a thief, Italy’s high­est court of ap­peal ruled Mon­day. The Supreme Court of Cas­sa­tion threw out Mr. Os­tri­akov’s theft con­vic­tion af­ter a trial court sen­tenced him to six months in jail and a •100 ($115) fine in Fe­bru­ary 2015. The Ukrainian na­tive and his lawyers only sought a more le­nient sen­tence be­cause he was un­able to pay the hefty fine.

But the court went even fur­ther, rul­ing that Os­tri­akov’s ac­tion in 2011 “does not con­sti­tute a crime” be­cause he stole a small amount of food out of des­per­a­tion. “The con­di­tion of the ac­cused and the cir­cum­stances in which he ob­tained the mer­chan­dise show that he had taken the lit­tle amount of food he needed to over­come his im­me­di­ate and es­sen­tial re­quire­ment for nour­ish­ment,” the court ruled in a state­ment. “Peo­ple should not be pun­ished if, forced by need, they steal small quan­ti­ties of food in order to meet the ba­sic re­quire­ment of feed­ing them­selves.”

Although de­ci­sions of the Court of Cas­sa­tion do not cre­ate bind­ing prece­dents for lower courts to fol­low like those of the US Supreme Court, Mau­r­izio Bel­la­cosa, a pro­fes­sor of crim­i­nal law at Luiss Univer­sity in Rome, tells The New York Times that the rul­ing will still have sig­nif­i­cance. The court ap­plied the Ital­ian le­gal doctrine “Ad im­pos­si­bilia nemo tene­tur,” mean­ing, “No one is ex­pected to do the im­pos­si­ble.”

But be­cause the “state of ne­ces­sity” ar­gu­ment is rarely ap­plied in shoplift­ing cases, says Mr. Bel­la­cosa, the de­ci­sion in the Os­tri­akov case “is a new prin­ci­ple, and it might lead to a more fre­quent ap­pli­ca­tion of the state of ne­ces­sity linked to poverty sit­u­a­tions.” Some sup­port­ers of the rul­ing hope Os­tri­akov’s case will shed light on the ex­treme poverty and home­less­ness in Italy.

In 2015, more than one in four Ital­ians lived at or near the poverty level, as un­em­ploy­ment lin­gered around 13 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to re­ports from the hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion Car­i­tas Europa. In 2013, the sta­tis­tics agency ISTAT told Reuters that rel­a­tive poverty in Italy (de­fined as a fam­ily of two liv­ing on about $1,139 a month) was at 12.7 per­cent, the high­est level since the agency be­gan track­ing the data in 1997. And ac­cord­ing to the Cor­riere Della Sera news­pa­per, 615 Ital­ians are added “to the ranks of the poor” ev­ery day. This court rul­ing is in sharp con­trast with the way many com­mu­ni­ties treat the hunger in the United States.

As of 2014, 31 cities had re­stricted, or were mov­ing to re­strict, shar­ing food with the home­less. In Ft. Laud­erdale, for ex­am­ple, a 90year-old man who vi­o­lated a city­wide law against feed­ing the home­less faced 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Con­trary to what leg­is­la­tors in th­ese cities pur­port, food­shar­ing does not per­pet­u­ate home­less­ness, says the US Na­tional Coali­tion for the Home­less.

Back in Italy, the La Stampa news­pa­per praised the rul­ing in a front page edi­to­rial: “The court’s de­ci­sion re­minds us all that in a civilised coun­try no one should be al­lowed to die of hunger.”

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