An court in Italy has acquitted a homeless man on a theft charge, after the man stole about $4.50 worth of cheese and sausage in 2011.
The lower court had initially found Roman Ostriakov guilty, and sentenced him to six months in jail and a $115 fine. His lawyers only appealed, reportedly because Ostriakov was unable to pay the fine; he was willing to spend the six months in jail, under a roof, and with food.
The decision, which is based on an Italian legal doctrine that states “no one is expected to do the impossible,” included this statement:
“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. 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.”
In Italy, unlike in Canada and the U.S., the appeal court’s decisions are not binding in the lower court; in other words, they do not carry the weight as a precedent that such a ruling here would. Yet, the conversation has begun, thanks to this ruling. Poverty is a real and palpable problem in our community; media releases from Peterborough Police Service often contain stories similar to Ostriakov’s.
Should we really consider a starving homeless person a thief if he takes some sausage and a block of cheese? Or should we consider it a wake-up call for the rest of us to step up?