Is kleptomania a defense in a South Florida theft case?

“Did you HAVE to steal that?” If the person you’re asking has kleptomania, the answer could very well be, “Yes.” But is it a viable criminal defense in a South Florida theft case?Broward theft defense lawyer


It’s probably only a successful defense strategy in a small percentage of Florida theft cases. But talk about it with your Broward criminal defense lawyer. Unless you’ve actually been diagnosed with kleptomania – and are actively seeking treatment or are willing to do so – a different approach to your defense may be much more effective.

What Exactly is Kleptomania?

You may have heard the term “klepto” used in reference to a person who regularly steals. That’s sort of the gist, but kleptomania is an actual mental health disorder that, as noted by the Mayo Clinic, involves “repeatedly being unable to resist urges to steal items that you generally don’t need.” Often, these items have little value and could likely be afforded by the person taking them.

Ultimately, it’s an emotional/behavioral issue that comes down to lack of impulse control. It’s a behavioral addiction, similar to those with gambling disorder, sex addiction, shopping addiction, or eating disorder. Like many impulse control disorders, it’s extremely difficult to resist the temptation or powerful urge to engage in this activity – even knowing it’s against the law and harmful to yourself, your relationships, your reputation, your freedom, etc.

These episodes can occur in public places, like a store (shoplifting), or may happen at someone’s residence, a friend’s home, a party, etc. The urge to steal may come and go in waves. Unlike most other shoplifters, it’s not about personal gain, revenge, or rebellion for someone with kleptomania. It’s solely about powerful urges the person doesn’t feel able to control.

It’s worth noting that if you have not been arrested/caught and want to seek help, a mental health provider is unlikely to report theft-related crimes to authorities – especially if you’re seeking help. You can talk to a defense lawyer in advance if you have concerns.

When Can Kleptomania Be Raised as a Florida Criminal Defense Strategy?

As noted by research published in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, kleptomania is a little unique among behavioral addictions in that the diagnostic criteria for the disorder necessitates criminal behavior (i.e., stealing/theft). By definition, they’ve committed theft, whether or not they’re ever criminal convicted.

Kleptomania has not thus far been the basis of a successful not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea. In one case before the Maine Supreme Court, justices ruled kleptomania was not a defense to theft under state law because a compulsion to commit a crime doesn’t preclude action with intent.

One facing theft charges might argue the doctrine of diminished capacity, meaning they lacked mental capacity to form specific intent to commit the crime. There have been cases where individuals diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder have argued diminished capacity in theft-related crimes, wherein the court held that the diminished capacity to control one’s actions means that the underlying action is not premeditated.

On the flip side, because kleptomania is typically diagnosed on the basis of behavior that’s recurrent, it could actually be used as the basis to enhance one’s criminal penalties.

Broward criminal defense lawyers must tread carefully when a client facing Florida theft charges asserts a diagnosis of kleptomania. In truth, there are only a small portion of theft crimes that are consistent with this diagnosis. That said, if we can find basis for it, we may be able to successfully mitigate criminal responsibilities to an extent – particularly when it comes to clinically significant impairment or distress related to the disorder (such as serious financial issues). It will probably be less effective as a defense if we’re using it to simply trying to explain the alleged behavior.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

Kleptomania, Mayo Clinic

More Blog Entries:

Why Should I Hire a Broward Defense Lawyer for a Misdemeanor? Nov. 30, 2022, Fort Lauderdale Retail Theft Defense Lawyer Blog

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