On January 26, 2023, the German Bundestag (parliament) discussed in a first reading two bills to decriminalize fare evasion and dumpster diving. Both bills were submitted by the Left Party. Currently, the crime of fare evasion is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to one year, whereas the crime of dumpster diving is punishable as theft by a fine or imprisonment of up to five years. (German Criminal Code §§ 242, 265a.)
According to the explanatory memorandum for the decriminalization of fare evasion, even though most people are sentenced to pay a fine, they are incarcerated instead when they are unable to pay. One daily rate of a fine corresponds to one day of imprisonment. (Criminal Code § 43.) Poor and homeless people are more likely to be unable to pay a fine and thus imprisoned. Particularly for poor people, criminalizing fare evasion does not deter them from committing the crime “because the needed funds are just not available.” Approximately 7,000 people serve a prison sentence for fare evasion each year. (Explanatory Memorandum Fare Evasion at 1, 4.)
Furthermore, the Left Party contends that being sentenced to pay a fine and having to pay an increased ticket price of usually up to 30 times the original ticket price to the transportation company amounts to being punished twice for the same offense. As a solution, free public transportation tickets for social security recipients are proposed. (At 5.) Lastly, the explanatory memorandum points out that neither are people hurt nor are objects damaged when someone evades paying the fare. Germany does not have barriers blocking entrances to public transport, making the punishment disproportionate to the harm caused. (At 5.)
The crime of dumpster diving is punishable as theft because “when food is thrown into a waste container that is collected by a waste disposal company, the owner wants to relinquish ownership in favor of only one other person, the waste disposal company, and not in favor of everyone.” However, the explanatory memorandum points out that this legal situation leads to food waste, which is at odds with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030, which Germany is committed to. National rules on food waste are necessary alongside a decriminalization of dumpster diving. (Explanatory Memorandum Dumpster Diving at 2.) Furthermore, the explanatory memorandum states that more than 80% of citizens surveyed do not support criminalizing dumpster diving, particularly in light of rising grocery prices. (At 1.)
Jenny Gesley, Law Library of Congress
February 15, 2023
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