Felony charges dropped for homeless man who underpaid for Mountain Dew bottle

Felony charges dropped for homeless man who underpaid for Mountain Dew bottle
Joseph Sobolewski, 38, had been charged with felony theft after he underpaid for a bottle of Mountain Dew by 43 cents

Prosecutors have decided that a felony charge over an allegedly stolen Mountain Dew bottle was a little extreme.

Joseph Sobolewski, 38, was arrested in August after he paid $2 for the green soda at a gas station in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, and walked out. The bottle actually cost $2.43.

Mr Sobolewski says he had seen a sign outside the store advertising 20oz Mountain Dew bottles at two for $3, so he thought the price for one was $1.50. But the store called the police, who arrested and charged him.

This was the third time Mr Sobolewski, who is homeless, had been charged with stealing. And under Pennsylvania’s “three strikes” law, a third theft charge must be treated as a felony. Mr Sobolewski was jailed for seven days on a $50,000 cash-only bond, and faced up to seven years in prison – all over a bottle of Mountain Dew.

The story went viral, with news sources across North America covering the 43-cent felony.

Then, earlier this month, prosecutors quietly dropped the charge. According to PennLive, the Perry County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the felony theft charge, and reduced another charge to a summary offense.

Mr Sobolewski says his lawyer told him about the downgrade on Monday.

“That’s great news,” he told PennLive. “I feel I was treated unequally because I had a record.”

Some local authorities believe the charge should not have been brought in the first place.

Brandon Flood, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, called the case “a complete and utter waste of resources.”

“This is literally a matter of cents, resulting in not only criminalizing an individual but costing taxpayers money to house him,” Mr Flood told The Washington Post. “We’re still grappling with a global pandemic and we have to be better fiscal stewards across the board, and this is the complete antithesis of that. We shouldn’t be seeing these kinds of cases.”

The Independent has reached out to the Perry County District Attorney’s Office for comment.