Italian Court Says Stealing Food Isn’t a Crime If You’re Poor and Hungry

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In a story that proves there’s at least some humanity left in the world, the Italian Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a homeless man for stealing food this week, saying that since he was hungry, his actions did not constitute criminal activity.

The BBC reports that Roman Ostriakov stole two pieces of cheese and a pack of sausages from a supermarket in Genoa in 2011, and was sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine for theft. However, his case was sent for an appeal to reduce his conviction to “alleged theft,” since he was caught before he left the shop.

Instead of just reducing the sentence, Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation (the country’s highest court) overturned it entirely, saying that “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.”

According to the New York Times, a former member of the Court stated that the basis of the court’s decision relied on an Italian legal doctrine that translates to “No one is expected to do the impossible.” Essentially, because his circumstances made it such that he had no other choice, his theft was not a crime. However, as Vox notes, this decision does not set a precedent, so no need to worry about a wave of food thefts as a result of this case.

While this decision doesn’t stand to alter the current laws in any way, it is a great example of a legal system working to uphold human rights and dignity. As a piece in Italian newspaper Corriera Della Sera notes, the growing crisis of poverty in Italy makes Ostriakov an unlikely hero for the underserved. In this reverse “Les Miserables” situation, justice is with the proletariat. The compassion of the Court could go a long way in promoting broader societal attitudes, simply by advocating for something as basic as humanity for the common man.

Mariam Jaffery
Mariam was an Executive Assistant at Law Street Media and a native of Northern Virginia. She has a B.A. in International Affairs with a minor in Business Administration from George Washington University. Contact Mariam at



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