Is kleptomania a valid legal defense for theft charges?

On Behalf of | Oct 12, 2022 | Theft & Property Crimes

While some people steal because of extreme financial hardship, others have a mental health condition that affects impulse control. If you have been charged with theft in Florida, it’s important to explore the circumstances surrounding the incident.

The basics of kleptomania

Kleptomania, or compulsive stealing, is a mental health condition. Those who have it have an extremely difficult time curbing their urge to take things that don’t belong to them. In nearly every case, the stolen items hold no value for kleptomaniacs. Instead, tension relief is the impetus. Researchers aren’t sure why, but stealing soothes people with the condition.

Most kleptomaniacs don’t plan to steal anything. Usually, a feeling of stress overwhelms them at a given moment, and stealing something is the only thing that can allay this feeling. Notably, true kleptomania is rare, as the condition affects only 0.3% to 0.6% of individuals.

Currently, there is no surefire cure for kleptomania though some patients show improvement with the help of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as those used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other treatments usually include cognitive behavioral therapy, impulse-control education and stress management.

Kleptomania as a legal defense

Depending on the circumstances, it’s possible that kleptomania may be used as a part of a defense for theft charges in conjunction with other evidence. Mandatory therapy and other types of behavioral classes could be part of a court-ordered judgment.

However, if the prosecutors can prove that someone tried to profit from the items that they stole, kleptomania-related defenses become moot since people with diagnosable compulsive stealing conditions don’t benefit financially from the items that they have taken. Attempting to leverage the stolen item signals that the defendant doesn’t have the disorder.

Like other mental health conditions, kleptomania is often misunderstood. Seeing a therapist may be able to help those who have this disorder seek relief.


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