Criminal Justice

Pennsylvania Could Put a Homeless Man in Prison Over 43 Cents

Overzealous three-strikes laws claim another victim.


A homeless man in Pennsylvania faces years in prison for not reading the fine print.

Joseph Sobolewski picked up a single Mountain Dew from a convenience store, listed as two for $3, according to Penn Live. He left $2 on the counter on his way out the door, unaware that the price only applied if he bought two. Rather than write off the difference—43 cents, including tax—to a misunderstanding, the clerk called the police, who tracked down Sobolewski and charged him for the theft.

Unfortunately, Sobolewski has two prior theft convictions, and under Pennsylvania's "three strikes" law, the act of paying for most of, but not an entire, beverage requires he be charged with a felony, and face a potential jail sentence of up to seven years. Additionally, despite there being no force or threat of violence involved with the offense, Sobolewski was held with bail set at $50,000—which, to a homeless person with negligible income, may as well be $5 million.

Under the law in question, even though a first offense is treated akin to a speeding ticket, any third retail theft is treated as a third-degree felony, akin to stealing merchandise worth more than $1,000. Sobolewski's two previous convictions involved stealing a tank of gasoline, and a pair of shoes from Kmart, with each incident occurring a decade ago.

Sobolewski's case presents a clear example of the fundamental backwardness of how the American criminal justice system operates: For the cumulative theft of goods worth less than $100 over more than 10 years, he faces up to seven years in prison.

Three-strikes laws exist in multiple states and jurisdictions, with stories just as brutally unfair as this one. In Florida, septuagenarian Andrew Sweet was sentenced to three years in prison for "stealing three bags of pistachio nuts and a box of Folgers coffee—worth a total of $44.85—from a Publix. Because of two prior petty theft convictions from 1980 and 1992, the third offense became an automatic felony." Just like Sobolewski, Sweet was listed as homeless. Elsewhere, a grandfather serves a life sentence for selling marijuana.

Three-strikes laws exact a terrible toll, consigning minor offenders to long stretches in prison and distorting the fundamental constitutional principle that people should face neither "excessive fines, nor cruel and unusual punishments."

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  1. Now you know how Florida keeps the homeless numbers low - - - - - -

    1. #prisonismyhome

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  2. >>A homeless man in Pennsylvania faces years in prison

    because President B was tough on crime 30 years ago.

    1. If that was intended to be sarcasm, then you're not very good at it.

      If that was intended to be a sincere comment, I'm curious what role you think the US President has on:
      a) the passage of a state-level law by the state legislature
      b) the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by state officers
      c) the exercise of prosecutorial discretion at any level 30 years later.

      1. Just wait. You will be called a troll for making these perfectly rational statements.

        1. facepalm.jpg


      3. >>then you’re not very good at it

        lol. it worked.

      4. Wasn't Trump accused of various "-ism" transgressions under similar circumstances? And hasn't the answer always been "Is there a (D) or an (R) after their name?" To channel Robbie, To Be Sure...BOTH. SIDES.

  3. "Pennsylvania Could Put a Homeless Man in Prison Over 43 Cents"

    OR - -
    PA could put a felon in prison under Joe Biden's three strikes law?

    The headline reminds me of the people who still think Prisoner 24601 was chased for bread theft and not for escaping prison.

    1. It's a Pennsylvania law. Even when Biden was a senator,
      1) he was from Delaware, not PA
      2) US senators have no role in the passage of state-level laws.

      Granted, Biden was an intolerant drug-warrior who supported similarly punitive and counter-productive laws at the federal level - but this particular criminal would face the same excessive punishment even if those federal laws never existed.

      1. You should watch this (unless you have high blood pressure). It's only one minute long.

          1. Great video of Biden's ugly past.

            Unfortunately, I don't recall seeing this video during the past two decades.

            Had the GOP, Trump's campaign or Fox News showed this during the BLM, ANTIFA and "defund the police" riots in dozens of Democrat controlled cities last summer (or just before the 2020 election), Biden probably wouldn't have won (as fewer blacks and drug war opponents would have voted for the corrupt Big Guy).

    2. Good catch! But 24601 was paroled from prison, he didn't escape.

      After he stole a coin from a boy out of force of habit, he regretted doing so and tried to return the coin but the theft had already been reported and, as a repeat offender (not three strikes but two), would have been sentenced to life in prison. Life imprisonment for stealing a coin after stealing some bread,

      And a big part of the story was that he was being pursued by one particularly vindictive asshole who could have used his discretion to show a little mercy but chose not to. In the end, it is plain that his pursuit of justice is actually a pursuit of injustice.

      So yes, 24601 is a very apt comparison to this sort of situation.

      1. He was both paroled and escaped multiple times.
        5 years for the theft, a total of 14 years more for multiple escapes.
        Then he was paroled.

  4. Fuck Biden!

    Fuck Democrats!

    The party of racism caused this to happen!

    Reason voted for Biden!

    They wanted this!

    Now that that's out of the way, wtf? I understand judges are supposed to robotically do what the law says, but shit. Isn't the judiciary supposed to be a check on the legislative and executive? Do judges not have the power to say "Fuck you, this legislation is unreasonable!"?

    1. Juries certainly do. So don't skip jury duty when your notice comes.

      1. I let my voter registration lapse. So I can't "serve." Funny how serving the public means do this or go to jail.

        1. I don't understand.

          We all *know* you voted for Biden because Reason told you to. How did you do that without being registered?

          Oh, yeah, I forgot. Widespread Democratic fraud.

          1. I said unflattering things about Twump. Dat meens I woted fo him.

            1. I mean against him. I mean, I don't know what I mean. I'm perpetually drunk.

              1. Watch Mother's Lament scoop this one up and spam all my posts with a link to it for a week.

                1. Unfortunately I cannot since Mother's Lament was the second person I muted the day the Mute button feature appeared on this site (after I muted JesseAz).

                  1. Oh bull. You can't reply to someone you've muted, and you reply to the girls all the time. I call bullshit.

                    1. I don't. You can check.

                    2. Too much effort.

                2. "Watch Mother’s Lament scoop this one up"

                  Scoop up what? You drunkenly trolling and being retarded?
                  If I was collecting all that, I'd need several extra terabytes for my hard drive.

              2. Amazing how many sock puppet accounts you have, but at least you have "friends" to support you.

                Take your meds. Please.

          2. It is interesting to see that Mike has stopped doing his "I'm middle of the road" schtick and has spent the last couple of days just trying to get sympathy threads with Sarc and the lefties. Perhaps he feels like things got out of control when people were calling him out for his disingenuous arguing and now he wants to drum up some support?

            Regardless, For the benefit of the thread, arguing with Mike is arguing with someone who will never take responsibility for what he says. In fact, within days he will be acting as if he never said these things in the first place. He is a completely disingenuous adversary and you would do better arguing with the main character from Memento.


            That is Mike insisting that he “would never look to Rolling Stone” for news, after spreading their bogus ivermectin story only days earlier. Consider that: He didn’t apologize. He didn’t even try to ignore his mistake. He brazenly tried to dunk on Rolling Stone to make himself look like an arbiter of truth.

            The pathological narcissism required to disrespect the truth and readers so heavily should make him ashamed. It won't though, so I advise others in the thread to avoid engaging with someone that argues in such bad faith.

            1. "Mike insisting that he “would never look to Rolling Stone” for news, after spreading their bogus ivermectin story only days earlier"

              Sometimes I wonder if he's several different people or a married couple. Hey, maybe it's ENB and her beard. Or, maybe he's just not keeping track of his bullshit.

      2. Last time I was invited to serve it was a federal immigration case. The potentials were quizzed on many things, including blind allegiance to the law. Some guy had overstayed his visa, meanwhile he committed terrible crimes like starting a business and creating jobs. So of course the government wanted him gone. His papers were expired. I would have been booted from that jury so fast for questioning the arbitrariness of kicking the guy out of the country over paperwork.

        1. I have only been on two (very boring) civil cases.

          The first one, a telephone company van allegedly hit a guy on a bike. The dude actually let the telephone company have possession of the bike, at which point this key piece of evidence was somehow lost by the telephone company.

          The second one was some guy suing for wrongful termination from a startup. By the end of the trial, everyone on the jury despised the plaintiff and the dependents, but we awarded a huge settlement. Months later I spotted the plaintiff driving an expensive, new car but he still had this look on his face like he was still completely miserable and unhappy.

          1. Was that before or after both you spent time in a homeless camp.

          2. Sounds incredibly boring. When I was in school we did several trips to courtrooms, to convince kids to want to be lawyers. I fell asleep every time.

            Now I wash dishes at Denny's. With my mom.

            So kids! Stay awake in court! Don't end up like me!

            1. Let ML have fun with that one.

              1. By the way, I discovered the other day that you can pretty much get the Trump Mean Girls not to comment on a thread. All you have to do is say that you really want them to comment, and they will refrain from doing so to spite you.

                1. Which is about as smart as not getting vaccinated because Democrats want you to. You really showed them!

                  1. They are noticeably absent when someone starts the comments with "FUCK BIDEN DEMOCRATS CAUSED MY AUNT'S GOUT AAAUUUGGHH!"

                    Takes the wind out of their sails.

                    1. Totally not a Democrat, huh?

                      Maybe you and White Mike can thwart the nefarious anti-Bidenism, by posting "Hail Biden" at the start of each thread?

                  2. Remember when Kamal Harris said she would never take a vaccine developed under Trump. That really showed the Republicans.

              2. I think that's pretty much what everyone suspected, sarc.

  5. Sounds like a win-win. Criminal off the streets and homeless guy now has a home.

  6. Repeating myself, since Reason does: when a dude in a county of 45K gets overcharged for what is at worst the pettiest of larcenies, it’s because the merchants/cops already know him as a troublemaker and want to be rid of him.

    The lesson here isn't three strikes laws are bad (though they certainly can be); the lesson is don't expect a mulligan when you finally make an honest mistake after stealing something from every store you've ever been to.

    1. His fault for 'stealing' a Mt. Dew for the Nth time instead of just killing a lump of cells for the Nth time.

      1. Store owners are viable rational beings with individual rights to Life, Liberty, Property, and the Pursuit of Happiness. So what is your point?

    2. When merchants/cops have the power to label someone as a troublemaker and do something unjust about it, that's a problem even if the current victim is a miserable jerk. History proves that no system that gives those in power that much discretion can be trusted to only exercise their discretion against "bad" people.

      1. As a rule I agree with you. But I cannot find an ounce of sympathy for the perpetrator here. Laws are enforced by people, and occasionally they get fed up with other people's shit. This is clearly a process-as-punishment event for someone who should know better by now. It's a warning shot and he should heed it.

      2. The store owner is "miserable" because of "grab-and-dash" jerks and assholes who cumulatively can cost a business $Millions! Where's the justice in that???

        Whatever happened to private property rights?

    3. What kind of guy pops $2 on the counter and walks out before the cashier can ring it if he thinks it costs $1.50?
      The kind who knows it costs $2.29. The kind that is in there causing trouble all the time. How else could he get picked up after such a heist? The kind that is well known to the store staff. The kind that would already have a rap sheet.

  7. Whelp blue state so there you go. Jeffsarc once camped there as a homeless guy.

    1. Only the sides are blue. Perry county, where he was arrested:

      Brian S. Allen, Chair (R)
      Gary R. Eby, Vice Chair (R)
      Brenda L. Watson, Secretary (D)

      David Hammar, Republican

      State Senate
      John DiSanto, Republican
      Perry A. Stambaugh, Republican

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  9. He left $2 on the counter on his way out the door, unaware that the price only applied if he bought two.

    Pro tip Joe. When you link an article, don't just assume it says what you want it to. Read it. If the linked article demonstrates applied journalism, a big if, don't contradict it. According to Penn Live, Sobolewski was told he had underpaid before he left the property. He disputed the clerk and then "drove off".

    1. According to Penn Live, Sobolewski was told he had underpaid before he left the property. He disputed the clerk and then “drove off”.

      Wow. That's a big thing to leave out of the story.

      1. Normally I would show you my shocked face, but since mask mandates and all, I'll put on my shocked mask.

  10. The first few 3 strike law violations prosecuted were by liberal prosecutors who deliberately found what seemed like nonsensical cases similar to this in order to show the public how stupid the laws were. And the first few went to jail and the public overwhelmingly said "GOOD!" and breathed a sigh of relief as another lifelong petty criminal headed off to the big house.

    He's not headed to jail for 43¢. He's headed off to jail for being a lifelong law breaker.

    1. You sound completely unaware that the average American breaks 3 laws a day

  11. I think both the article (aligned with the homeless guy) and the commenters here aligned with the cops are missing the main point.

    The person made what appears to be an initial good faith attempt to pay, which was disputed by the store after the transaction. There might be some crime here but it's not plain old theft.

    Mr. Pareto....what if in a similar case it turned out the clerk was the one mistaken about the price, and refused to refund the $0.49 until the police were called. If it was the clerk's third strike, would you support 5 years in the penitentiary? If you say yes I applaud your consistency but you're a real hardass.

    If the storeowners are tired of the person they should have the right to ban him from the store. Jail over a price

    1. "good faith" is having your purchase rung up and paying the price charged

  12. "Sobolewski has two prior theft convictions"

    So, he's being sentenced to seven years--not because he stole 43 cents but because he was convicted of two prior thefts--and another one. Was he out on parole for the earlier conviction? Could a parole violation have triggered a more equitable sentence?

    It seems to me that most three strikes laws are driven by the public's lack of confidence in judges and parole boards to keep people locked up. If you won't keep them locked up, we'll just take your discretion away. California voted against sentencing reform and in favor of keeping cash bail for that reason.

    1. He wasn't out on parole, but he was out on bond for ripping off a Hobby Lobby in the next county two months prior.

  13. “Was he out on parole for the earlier conviction? Could a parole violation have triggered a more equitable sentence?”

    Unlikely. Without knowing all the details, the info provided about his two priors suggests probation was more apt. Plus some fine. Moreover, he likely got less than five years probation for those offenses.

    Had he rec’d a probation violation ( revocation), he could have gone to jail, but I doubt even that happened. It’s also the case that the three-strike law in PA is more a theoretical than a pragmatic, and is applied to violent repeat offenders.

    I doubt this guy has much to fear.

    1. Some people go their whole lives and are never convicted of a single theft.

  14. He left $2 on the counter on his way out the door, unaware that the price only applied if he bought two. Rather than write off the difference—43 cents, including tax—to a misunderstanding, the clerk called the police, who tracked down Sobolewski and charged him for the theft.

    Wait, what fucking town does this dude live in where the police respond to something like this?

    Because in my neck of the woods, this is how they do.

    1. RTFA: mean ol' Red Counties in Pennsyltucky committing grave injustices against good folk that won't never hurt nobody.

      1. There are no red counties in PA, it's Biden country.

        1. In point of fact only about 5 counties swung heavily for Biden. Allegheny County and Philadelphia with a few surrounding counties. Most of the rest of us split about 60/40 Republican.

  15. So, does Joe Lancaster think that a Grandfather selling marijuana is on the same par as fucking street looters who cost businesses $Millions cumulatively??? Does he also think that homelessness gives people special "rights" to plunder the hard-working productive???

    Where the fuck does Reason get these sorry excuses for thinkers?

  16. From the linked article:

    Also unclear is why the employee at the Exxon at 3298 Susquehanna Trail in Duncannon wanted to press charges over such a small amount.

    The answer is because Sobolewski is a habitual petty thief who has been skating by for decades on the system's refusal to take small thefts seriously, and now he finally ran into someone who was out of patience with his crap.

    The only reason this asshole doesn't have dozens of convictions over the last twenty years is that the system keeps going "Well, it's only a small amount, so it's not worth the expense of sending him to prison". As exemplified by the Hobby Lobby case mentioned in the article.

    The purpose of putting this waste of oxygen in prison is not to deter other people from being like his worthless ass, it's to give innocent people a break from his endless petty theft.

    1. The purpose of putting this waste of oxygen in prison is not to deter other people from being like his worthless ass, it’s to give innocent people a break from his endless petty theft.

      If it achieves both, Jackpot! God Damn it, it's time good people had nice things back, both now and for future generations.

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  18. Mountain Dew pay full price.

    1. Sobelewski could be Dew-ing time with the boys from Deliverance over this! Squeal like a pig for us Sobelewski! WEEEEEEE!!!

  19. The 3-Strikes type of law came into being because the career criminal was proving that existing punishments were not enough to deter them.

    The 3-strikes law was deliberately designed to tie the hands of prosecutors and judges. Now, of course, there is the clerk's side of the story, which is quoted on PennLive indicating that the theft was NOT an accidental underpayment. And there is certainly reason to suspect that someone with very low income would not deliberately over pay.

    Add that he was also arrested two months prior for stealing craft supplies. This guy seems to be a true habitual offender. This is exactly what the 3-strikes law was designed to address.

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