News Comment

Saturday 3 December 2016

Is it wrong to steal food if you are starving?

James McDermott

Published 02/06/2016 | 02:30

The decision taken by the Supreme Court of Italy could have implications for Ireland (Stock picture)
The decision taken by the Supreme Court of Italy could have implications for Ireland (Stock picture)

It has always been assumed by Irish lawyers that hunger is no defence to a charge of stealing food and homelessness is no defence to a charge of trespassing. However, that may need to be reconsidered in the light of an unexpected decision recently delivered by the Supreme Court of Italy.

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When Roman Ostriakov, a homeless, 30-year-old Ukrainian, stole a sausage and a piece of cheese from an Italian supermarket, he could not have imagined that he was about to radically change the law and in the process become the most famous European petty thief since Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo's 'Les Miserables'.

Ostriakov was noticed by a fellow customer leaving the supermarket with the cheese and sausage worth €4.07 in his pocket, having only paid for some breadsticks. In 2015, the lower court in Genoa convicted Ostriakov of theft and sentenced him to six months in prison and fined him €100. On appeal, Ostriakov's lawyers sought to argue that their client should only have been convicted of the lesser charge of attempted theft rather than actual theft on the basis that he had not managed to leave the supermarket with the concealed items before he was apprehended by store security. However, Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation overturned the conviction entirely.

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