An unhoused man in Perry County, Pennsylvania was arrested on a felony charge for theft after he didn't pay an extra 43 cents for a soda.
Joseph Sobolewski is facing up to seven years in prison for "stealing" a Mountain Dew. The situation highlights an issue with the way criminal law is applied.
The situation started when Sobolewski went to buy a soda that was listed as two for $3. He grabbed a bottle, threw $2 on the counter and walked out.
The convenience store manager tried to tell Sobolewski that it wasn't enough. The man responded that it was and left.
While the soda was two for $3, they were priced at $2.29 individually, leading to Sobolewski shorting the store 43 cents after tax. It's unclear in the story if Sobolewski intentionally shorted the store, or if it was just a misunderstanding.
This is what led to the unhoused man's arrest.
@washingtonpost This is ridiculous; we are not a healthy culture— J.E. Turcotte is vaccinated; pro-planet (@J.E. Turcotte is vaccinated; pro-planet) 1632257930.0
@HuffPost This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve read lately. Shame on the store for calling the police over .43 ce… https://t.co/i3r4TFvWbT— Kat (@Kat) 1632195270.0
Meanwhile tax evading billionaires get away with it. Calling the cops over 43 cents is inhumane & shame on that shop.— Dr.Aditi (@Dr.Aditi) 1632268173.0
@GlennFink3 @chrispossible @washingtonpost Every store in existence staffed by people who don't want to lose their… https://t.co/nNYyxnfsD9— The One True Nobody! (@The One True Nobody!) 1632264740.0
Sobolewski fell victim to Pennsylvania's "three strikes" law. In the state, the third instance of retail theft, regardless of amount, is a third-degree felony.
This is the same as involuntary manslaughter, intentional sexual assault, and carrying a firearm without a license.
So it's preventing escalating crimes, right? Well, if the fact this current instance is only for 43 cents didn't give it away, Sobolewski's previous crimes should make it clearer.
The unhoused man was last charged with theft in December 2011, nearly ten years ago. At the time, he had stolen a pair of shoes from K-Mart. Before that, his first charge was after driving away without paying for a tank of gas.
Sobolewski is facing up to 7 years in prison for a possible crime over 43 cents as a third strike, when his last crime was ten years ago.
Many online felt the law is a joke.
@washingtonpost Isn’t drinking Mountain Dew punishment enough?— Do the Right Thing (@Do the Right Thing) 1632257948.0
@19148_4533 @HuffPost Maybe if it was an actual theft, sure.— Don't at me, idiot 🔥🇺🇸🔥😢 (@Don't at me, idiot 🔥🇺🇸🔥😢) 1632195947.0
@payersedu @washingtonpost Solid reference!— Everette Callaway (@Everette Callaway) 1632258539.0
Whenever you see a sign on a business that says they’ll “prosecute to the fullest extent of the law,” what they mea… https://t.co/6OAq6j9eEn— Redbeard 🌹 Whitehead (@Redbeard 🌹 Whitehead) 1632232926.0
However some people have other ideas about theft and debated online.
@AaronPee5 @TribLIVE It shouldn't apply because it's an unjust law.— MoreMeThanIUsedToBe (@MoreMeThanIUsedToBe) 1632243220.0
@Gobbler5311 @washingtonpost It does matter that it was apparently a mistake.— Dr. Curt Hansman (@Dr. Curt Hansman) 1632267590.0
The situation is bringing up conversations on the state of the criminal justice system.
Nyssa Taylor with the ACLU Philadelphia said of the situation:
"The state prisons are bulging. We don't need to be jailing people over this. It's punishment of poverty and substance use disorder."
Sobolewski is currently held with a $50,000 cash bond, with his next court date set for November.