Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Kleptomania Definition:

An impulse control disorder characterized by the inability to resist impulses to steal objects.

A judicial decision in the Singapore Court of Appeal, written by Justice Rajah, known as Public Prosecutor v Goh, included this comprehensive description of kleptomania:

"The respondent suffered from kleptomania, which he described as an impulse control disorder.... Before she shoplifts, she would feel an urge to steal associated with a sense of anxiety, like a “rush, tension”, which would build up when she tries to fight it, until rational thoughts get displaced. She said she proceeded to shoplift despite knowing that it was “not worth it” and having resolved never to do so again. She said that only when she shoplifted would this “tension” be released and she would be “at peace”, but only for a while.

"Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder characterised by the inability to resist impulses to steal objects that are not generally acquired for personal use or monetary gain. The individual concerned describes a compulsive urge to steal. The behaviour is classically accompanied by an increasing sense of tension before, and a palpable sense of relief immediately after and during the act....

"As to the peculiar features of kleptomania, the essential diagnostic criterion is the recurrent failure to resist the impulse to steal items that are not needed for personal use or that have little personal value. The individual concerned may experience a rising sense of tension before the theft, and then experience gratification and/or anxiety reduction afterwards. Typically, the objects stolen usually have little value, and the person sometimes offers to pay for them, or may give them away, or sometimes hoards them. What is especially cogent in this respect is perhaps the absurdity of the act – what is stolen is not generally needed....

kleptomania"Kleptomania is now thought to have a biological basis, a deduction supported by the efficacy of treatment with long term medication. Elaborating in court, Dr Phang said that kleptomania is thought to be associated with the deficiency of some neurological function of the brain. It is more prevalent among women. The behaviour may be sporadic with long intervals of remission, or may persist for years despite repeated prosecutions. In short, it is an enigmatic condition, the diagnosis of which must necessarily be made after the exclusion of all other causes of the repeated thefts.....

"It is not known what proportion of all arrested shoplifters will fulfil the criteria of the condition, but probably fewer than 5% do so."

In Attorney Grievance, Justice Smith of the Court of Appeals of Maryland reproduced this expert opinion (that of a licensed physician in the State of Maryland and a certified psychiatrist) from the trial judge's opinion:

"A thief steals for his own needs and utilizes his gains for those needs. He is usually of a lower socio-economic class and will attempt to cover up his crime and deny guilt. On the other hand, the kleptomaniac is usually well-educated and of a higher socio-economic class. He either has no use for the gains of his theft and applies them to frivolous things, as he believes the Respondent did for the purpose of retaliating against the firm because of a sense of entitlement. These factors are manifestation of kleptomania. Such individuals freely admit guilt and almost want to be punished. Kleptomaniacs act under compulsion and engage in stealing as a way of reducing anxiety, rather than with real criminal intent."

In State v McCullough, the Court heard the defendant respond to a charge of larceny by alleging kleptomania. The court wrote this on kleptomania:

"It is a weakening of the will power to such an extent as to leave the afflicted one powerless to control his impulse to appropriate the personal property of others, without regard to whether such impulse is inspired by avarice, greed or idle fancy."

But in State v Riddle, the Texan court rejected the defence of kleptomania unless it is such as to deprive the defendant of his or her sense of right and wrong, irresistible impulse being insufficient.


Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!