The ruling was in the case a homeless man named Roman Ostriakov, who in 2011 was caught stealing a sausage and some cheese from a Genoa supermarket. He had hidden the goods, worth about 4.50 dollars, under his jacket as he paid for breadsticks. Roman was arrested after a customer informed the store’s security of the theft. In 2013 he was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.
This month the Supreme Court of Cassation overturned Ostriakov’s theft conviction, ruling that stealing small amounts of food to stave off hunger is not a crime. The case has drawn comparisons to the story of Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’.
“The condition of the defendant, and the circumstances in which the act of stealing 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”, said the court, according to CNN.
Some in Italy have praised the judges’ ruling as an act of humanity – one that’s especially meaningful at a time when many in the country are threatened with poverty. “In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet”, said Carlo Rienzi, president of consumer rights group Codacons, according to the Guardian.