America could learn something from an Italian court's decision that could help people who are homeless and starving avoid jail time and criminal convictions. Italy's highest court of appeals ruled this week that stealing food is not a crime if it's a minimal amount of food taken just to stave off extreme hunger.
The case revolved around a homeless man, Roman Ostriakov, who in 2011 was caught stealing around $4.50 worth of sausages and cheese from a supermarket in Genoa, the BBC reported. Last year, he was convicted of theft and sentenced to six months in jail, plus a $115 fine.
The court of appeals decided on Monday that Ostriakov was trying to feed himself to survive, and overturned the conviction.
"The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the seizure of merchandise took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of an immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of necessity," the ruling reads. “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 the U.S., according to the latest federal data from 2014, 48.1 million people were "food-insecure," meaning they did not have enough to eat.