International Law

Hungry man who stole cheese and hot dogs did not commit a crime, says Italy's top court

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If you’re homeless, broke and have no food, it may not be a crime to steal some, Italy’s highest appellate court recently ruled.

The appeal involved a defendant who allegedly stole approximately $4.60 worth of cheese and hot dogs from a Genoa supermarket, the Italian news agency ANSA reports. A trial court sentenced him to six months in jail, with a fine.

“The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the merchandise theft took place prove 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,” wrote justices on the Supreme Court of Cassation.

The defendant did pay for breadsticks at the store, according to the article. A customer noticed that he didn’t pay for the sausages and cheese he picked up, and told store management.

“Under the Italian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has a legal right to dignity,” Gherardo Colombo, a former member of the Supreme Court of Cassation, told the New York Times. “If you can’t eat because you have absolutely no money, and cannot sustain yourself without taking something you don’t own, in this case, the Italian criminal law justifies this theft.”

According to the Times, the Supreme Court of Cassation’s decisions do not create binding precedents for lower courts.

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