Kleptomania As A Criminal Defense

The standard meaning of kleptomania is the inability to resist impulses to steal objects. Those who have the disorder just "can't stop" stealing – from convenient stores, their workplaces, colleagues, or even their friends. Since kleptomania is a disorder, some people have used it as a defense when accused of shoplifting.

What Is Kleptomania

Kleptomania is a psychological disorder afflicting people with personal conflicts and needs. Such people may turn to shoplifting as a means of satisfying their needs or resolving their personal conflicts. For example, some people turn to shoplifting when they are depressed, experience low self-esteem, or are dealing with marital problems.

Proving Kleptomania

Depending on your jurisdiction, you may be able to use kleptomania as a legal defense to shoplifting, but there is a high burden of proof that you must surmount first. This is necessary to prevent serial shoplifters from abusing the defense and getting away with their crimes.

As a rule, you will have to get yourself clinically diagnosed as having kleptomania. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), here are the five criteria necessary for such a diagnosis:

  • You need to have recurring impulses to steal things, regardless of their dollar value or use value. It would be difficult to get diagnosed with the disorder if you only steal valuable objects such as jewelry.
  • You should be tense after each shoplifting episode. Shoplifters who go on with their lives as if nothing has happened may not be dealing with kleptomania. 
  • The act of stealing should be pleasurable to you. This is important because, to Kleptomaniacs, it is the act and not the value of the object that matters.
  • You don't steal when angry or to get back at the society or owners of the stolen items.
  • Your psychological disorder cannot be explained by other forms of disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder.

The Chances of Success

Whether or not you succeed with the defense depends on many issues apart from jurisdiction. For example, you may need expert testimony (for example, from a psychiatrist) to prove that your disorder actually makes you unable to resist the urge to steal. Also, it's unlikely that the court will just let you go free. Even if you avoid jail time, you may be ordered into a psychiatric facility for treatment. 

Before launching any form of criminal defense, it is advisable to consult a lawyer on its legality and the ease of proving it. This is especially true for affirmative defenses, which involves your admission to the alleged unlawful act.

For more information and help on proving your innocence, contact a criminal defense lawyer.