Stealing Food to Survive Is Not a Crime in Italy

After five years and three trials, a man was eventually cleared of wrongdoing for attempting to steal four euros' worth of food from an Italian supermarket.
Three different courts heard the case before the matter was settled, raising questions about the efficiency of the Italian justice system.

The Italian justice system acquitted Roman Ostriakov for his attempt to steal some food from a Genoa supermarket back in 2011. The homeless man tried to steal a piece of cheese and sausages — amounting to a value of 4 euros — in order to feed himself.

His act, however, is not considered a crime by the Italian Court of Cassation: according to the country's highest court, someone who, pushed by necessity, steals from a supermarket a small quantity of food to face the "unavoidable need to feed himself" is not punishable. This ruling sets down an important legal precedent that may have consequences for future cases.

Three steps to an obvious end

For justice to be reached, three judgments were needed. Indeed, Roman Ostriakov was condemned in the first trial to a suspended sentence and ordered to pay a €100 fine. The appeals court handling his case confirmed the earlier ruling, but his attorney filed another appeal, saying the facts showed only an attempt of theft and not an actual theft.

The case finally reached the Court of Cassation, the last level of justice, which found the homeless man not guilty because he acted in a state of need. The court ended the case by annulling the earlier rulings because it does not consider theft for hunger as a crime.

The conclusion is fair, but the time needed to achieve it is inexplicably long. Five years have passed between the incident in the supermarket and the judgment of the Court of Cassation.

The matter of concern is that the whole affair was about an attempt of such a small theft. This case shows why it is time to wonder about the Italian legal system, its efficiency and its slowness.