Can You Use Kleptomania as a Defense For Shoplifting?

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Can a person who is caught shoplifting claim temporary insanity by virtue of being kleptomaniac? Is kleptomania a good defense? Kleptomania is a medically recognized psychological disorder. It is an impulse control disorder that ultimately results in those afflicted having the uncontrollable urge to steal other people’s property. The kleptomaniac, unlike the routine shoplifter, does not typically steal for personal gain. This therefore begs the question, if people accused of more serious crimes committed due to a mental disorder can get away with an shoplifting and kleptomania as a defense in a criminal caseinsanity plea, why can’t a shoplifter use kleptomania as defense? Why not send the accused to a mental health aid program rather than face the consequences of the law if the act was performed under uncontrollable circumstances?

Well, it all depends on the law or the state of jurisdiction. In states that follow the M’Nagthen rule, proving kleptomania is no defense. Under the rule, insanity can only be proved by showing that you had a mental defect that prevented you from knowing the exact nature and consequences of your actions. A kleptomaniac is fully aware of what he or she is doing while stealing and often suffers guilt or fear of arrest. Kleptomania, therefore, doesn’t satisfy the M’Naghten rule for insanity.

In states that follow the American Law Institute (A.L.I.), insanity that can warrant a not-guilty verdict is defined as a condition where the accused person lacks substantial capacity to conform his or her conduct in accordance with the law requirements. Insanity here may also include the test for “irresistible impulse” but the courts will take notice that kleptomaniacs are never permanently unable to resist stealing throughout their lives. Proving kleptomania will not be enough to walk free.

However, with the testimony of a forensic psychology or expert psychiatrist showing that your condition is so severe that you cannot control the urge to steal, you may get a lesser sentence or an acquittal in a state that follows the A.L.I rule for insanity. This will also depend on the unique circumstances of your case. The state may order confinement to a mental health institution or mandatory mental treatment until your condition is completely cured. Given the long-lasting nature of kleptomania, treatment and confinement in a mental health facility could take a long time. You are better off pleading guilty. The penalty for shoplifting may not be as severe as getting confined in a mental hospital.

It is also risky, and your efforts would likely be unsuccessful, to try and fool the judicial system about the severity of your kleptomania. The state can use expert forensic psychologists who have developed highly specialized tests to pick out lies. The tests are not completely foolproof but some like the Structured Interview of Reported Symptoms (SIRS) can spot exaggerated or unlikely symptoms of the mental condition you claim to have.

Please reach out to Kenneth Padowitz, an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you explore all options available to you depending on the unique circumstances of your case, if you have been accused of petit theft, shoplifting or any other crime. Don’t feign kleptomania as a defense. It most likely won’t help your case.


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