A man charged with theft after reaching into a bulk food bin and grabbing beer nuts behaved badly but is not a criminal, a Prince Albert, Sask., judge has ruled.

Earlier this month, following a trial, provincial court Judge Hugh Harradence acquitted Douglas William Fowler of theft "not exceeding $5,000."

"While this conduct is unacceptable and wrong, it should not be stigmatized as criminal," Harradence wrote in a recently published five-page decision.

The charge stemmed from an incident on Sept. 8, 2008, at the Prince Albert Co-op.

According to the decision, a private investigator approached Fowler after seeing him dip into the grocery store's bulk food bins.

The investigator, Steven Clark, thought he saw Fowler come up with chocolate-covered candies and start eating them, although the judge later heard they were nuts.

Clark said when he approached Fowler, Fowler laughed and continued to munch away. Clark estimated the value of the items was $2.50.

Fowler had a different version of events. He told the court he didn't eat the nuts but just grabbed a handful to show them to a friend to see whether those were the kind he wanted to buy. 

He also said he suffers from a genetic disorder and has very limited use of his hands.

The judge said he could see Fowler had a disability, but he didn't believe much of the rest of his story.

While there was no admissible evidence indicating Fowler was a chronic pilferer, the Crown proved beyond a reasonable doubt that theft occurred that one day, he said.

However, Harradence also said Clark's $2.50 estimate seemed high. It's more likely that the value of the nuts was "minimal," he said.

Referring to a legal maxim that "the law does not concern itself with trifles," a not-guilty decision is appropriate, Harradence decided.