A homeless man in the US is facing seven years in prison after he accidentally shortchanged a store 60 cents ($0.43 USD) for a bottle of soft drink.
According to PennLive, Joseph Sobolewski, 38, went to buy a bottle of soft drink in August from a convenience store but a misunderstanding resulted in him accidentally not paying the correct amount.
According to the report, the store was advertising two bottles for $3, and as Mr Sobolewski only had $2, he took one bottle thinking it would cost $1.50, leaving $2 on the counter.
However, a single bottle actually cost $2.29, not $1.50, and after tax was added, the man had unknowingly shortchanged the store by 43 cents.
The store called the police, who found him and charged him with a felony, with a cash-only bond set at $50,000 ($68,900 AUD), as well as possibly facing up to seven years in prison.
Charged under the 'three strikes law'
The publication reported that Mr Sobolewski was arrested and charged under Pennsylvania's 'three strikes law' for retail theft.
He had also been convicted more than a decade ago after he drove off without paying for petrol, and again in 2011 for stealing a pair of shoes. The soft drink was counted as the third theft charge.
Mr Sobolewski was later released after the bond was modified to be "unsecured", meaning there is a promise that the defendant will pay a certain amount of money if they don't follow the precise conditions of their bail. There is no requirement to pay this sum in full or in part.
Brandon Flood, director of the state’s Board of Parole said the 'three strikes law' was problematic because the monetary value of the theft isn't factored in.
“For me, I would get the deterrent factor if someone’s thefts were getting worse or higher in value,” he said.
“But the lack of discretion is what bothers me. It’s problematic because it doesn’t factor in the amount.”
According to PennLive, the law requires proof that the theft was an intentional crime rather than a misunderstanding, so the charges may not hold.
A first retail theft offence is a summary, akin to a speeding ticket, a second offence is a misdemeanor and subsequent offences are classified as third-degree felonies. Pennsylvania’s The Sentinel newspaper notes other third-degree felonies include involuntary manslaughter, institutional sexual assault and carrying a gun without a licence.
Under Pennsylvania law, the first charge of retail theft where the value of the items stolen is less than $150 is graded as a summary offence, a second offence is a misdemeanor and the third offence is classed as a third-degree felony, no matter the amount.
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