Legalizing Theft

I thought of Victor Hugo as I read this news story:

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – Thou shalt not steal, say the Ten Commandments, but it might eventually no longer apply if you are starving in Venezuela.

The poor, oil-rich nation is considering decriminalizing the theft of food and medicine in cases where a thief is motivated by extreme hunger or need.

Supreme Court Judge Alejandro Angulo Fontiveros told Reuters on Wednesday that the so-called “famine theft” clause should be part of a broad penal code reform measure for humanitarian reasons.

“This is a guide for judges to avoid injustice,” said Fontiveros, who is in charge of drafting the reforms. “They lock up for years a poor person who lives in atrocious misery and what they need is medicine.”

Under Fontiveros’ proposal to the Supreme Court, those who take food, medicine or inexpensive goods without using violence to ease hunger caused by prolonged, extreme poverty would not be punished.

There’s probably some form of punishment for stealing a loaf of bread somewhere between “19 years of hard labor” and “no punishment at all” that is appropriate.

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