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September 23, 2021

Homeless Man Faces up to 7 Years in Jail for Accidental 43-Cent 'Theft'

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Things took a somewhat drastic turn for a homeless man in Pennsylvania when charges of a felony were pressed against him, coupled with a seven-year sentence for a 43-cent theft. 

Being in awry situations is a part of life, and sometimes, unforeseen circumstances can surprise us at the most unusual moments. Joseph Sobolewski clearly didn't see what he was walking into when he stopped by a convenience store in Perry County in August. 

The 38-year-old man entered the store to purchase a bottle of soda and accidentally left the store without paying the correct amount. Sobolewski was apparently in a hurry and fled the store after grabbing the soft drink and placing the money on the counter. 

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The store was selling 2 soda bottles for $3, and Sobolewski paid $2, thinking that the bottle cost $1.50. However, each bottle actually cost $2.29, which meant that he unintentionally shortchanged the store by 43 cents.

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Sobolewski's current situation sheds light on several loopholes in the criminal justice system, including district judges determining incredibly high bonds and the "three strikes law" not taking into account the value of the item in the third arrest.

Brandon Flood, Director of the state's Board of Parole, said: 

“But the lack of discretion is what bothers me. It’s problematic because it doesn’t factor in the amount.”

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Following the store theft, Sobolewski was taken into custody in response to a call from the store's management, and in addition to being charged with a felony, he was put in lock-up on a $50,000 cash-only bond. 

A store clerk also testified that when Sobolewski left the store after payment, he followed him outside and told him he had not paid the correct amount. However, he refused to pay the remaining amount and fled the store.

He is now being charged under Pennsylvania's highly stringent "three strikes law" for retail theft. It is highly likely that Sobolewski might face the possibility of spending three-and-a-half to seven years in jail for theft of less than 50 cents. 

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This isn't the first time the Pennsylvania resident is facing theft charges. Sobolewski has been charged nearly thrice with theft in the past. Ten years ago, he stopped by a gas station to refuel his car's tank and drove off without paying. 

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Then in December 2011, he was arrested for stealing a pair of shoes from K-Mart in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Earlier in June, Sobolewski and his wife were taken into custody for allegedly stealing craft supplies under charges of felony. 

According to PennLive, the law needs substantial evidence that the theft was carried out intentionally and wasn't accidental, so perhaps, the charges might not hold after all. 

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Nyssa Taylor, the criminal justice policy counsel with ACLU Philadelphia, also expressed that putting people in jail for cases similar to Sobolewski's is equivalent to reprimanding them for being impoverished. 

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