Colorado Criminal Law – Understanding Kleptomania – The Compulsion To Steal
Colorado Criminal Law – Compulsive Theft Understanding Kleptomania – The Compulsion To Steal – At times a person who commits the crime of theft – such as shoplifting – may be acting under a compulsive mental disorder commonly known as Kleptomania. This article explains Kleptomania and why, even though if is not a complete legal defense to a charge of theft, it helps explain why the crime occurred and helps in negotiations with the District Attorney.
Why We Should Not “Criminalize” Kleptomania In Colorado – Understanding The Mental Disorder Known As Kleptomania
At it’s most base level, Kleptomania is the recurrent inability to resist urges to steal items that a person generally does not really need and that usually have little value.
Kleptomania is a rare but serious mental health disorder that can cause much emotional pain if not treated. It is a type of impulse control disorder — a disorder that’s characterized by problems with emotional or behavioral self-control.
This “irresistible impulse” to steal occurs unexpectedly. There is no planning to the crime.
Kleptomania is distinguished in many ways discussed below from a “shoplifting addiction” – but the primary difference from shoplifting is that shoplifters typically plan to stealing their target objects and they usually steal because they do not have money to purchase the items.
Kleptomania is a rare condition. Less than 5% of those who commit theft are diagnosed with Kleptomania. While this is not an excuse to steal, because kleptomaniacs are aware of what they are doing at all times, the distinguishing feature of kleptomania is that it is a mental illness.
To summarize – kleptomania is defined as:
- A powerful urge to steal that is compulsive in nature.
- Not occurring with planning or forethought.
- A source of great anxiety for the kleptomaniac.
Compare “Shoplifting Addiction”
While a “shoplifting addiction” is similar to kleptomania – they are different. The primary difference is that shoplifting addiction causes the shoplifter great anxiety well in advance of the shoplifting trip. Typically the shoplifting addict has experienced some loss in life and the act of shoplifting is performed as a way to “make things right” and the crime may even be committed in anger.
To summarize Shoplifting Addiction is defined as:
- An overwhelming desire to shoplift items.
- A constant tension and pressure to shoplift with repetitive thoughts about shoplifting associated with a very brief time of relief after shoplifting.
- A way to express anxiety, anger or a way to “set things right” in life.
Kleptomania – How It Works – “The Cycle Of Stealing”
The “cycle of kleptomania” is similar to other impulse control disorders.
The inability to resist powerful urges to steal items that you don’t need, Kleptomania – “cycles as follows:
1. First there is a feeling of increased tension, anxiety or arousal leading up to the theft.
2. This is followed by feeling pleasure, relief or gratification while stealing.
3. This is then followed with feelings of terrible guilt, remorse, self-loathing, shame or fear of arrest after the theft.
4. Finally there is a return of the urges and a repetition of the Kleptomania cycle.
Unlike typical shoplifters, people with kleptomania don’t compulsively steal for personal gain, on a dare, for revenge, or out of rebellion. They steal simply because the urge is so powerful that they can’t resist it. Episodes occur spontaneously – with no planning, no warning and without the help or collaboration from another person.
Kleptomania – It Is NOT A Character Flaw
Kleptomania is a mental health condition, it is not a character flaw. The blame we place on their compulsive acts causes them to live lives of secret shame because they’re afraid to seek mental health treatment. (see below)
It is not a condition that can be overcome by sheer willpower.
The Diagnosis Of Kleptomania Is Often “Dual Diagnosis” Or A “Multiple Coinciding Diagnoses”
People with kleptomania often have another mental illness such as:
- bipolar disorder,
- anxiety disorder,
- eating disorders,
- substance use disorders or
- a personality disorders.
Kleptomania Is Rare – A Diagnosis Is Uncommon – Making A Firm Diagnosis More Likely True Than Not True
It is exactly because a kleptomania diagnosis is rare that when there is an actual medical diagnosis of the disorder – that diagnosis should be given credibility. Kleptomania is very rare in the general population – about 0.3 to 0.6 percent of people experience this condition.
It often begins during the teen years or in young adulthood, but it can start in adulthood or later and ost people with the disorder are women, (about two-thirds).
Kleptomania CAN Be Treated And Should NOT Be Punished
Left untreated, kleptomania results in severe emotional, family, work, legal and financial problems. Because the Kleptomaniac knows stealing is wrong, but feels powerless to resist the impulse, he or she is wracked by guilt, shame, self-loathing and humiliation.
Follow those feelings with the reality that to date there is no known cure for the condition, the cycle often repeats and repeats and repeats – ending with the destruction of many lives.
While there is no known “cure” for kleptomania, successful treatment modalities include a combination of psychopharmacology and psychotherapy.
Psychological Counseling Or Therapy for Kleptomania
Counseling or therapy for kleptomania may be in a group or one-on-one setting. It is usually aimed at dealing with underlying psychological problems that may be contributing to kleptomania.
- Behavior modification therapy
- Family therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
Medications Used To Control Kleptomania include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which raise serotonin levels in the brain:
- Fluoxetine (Prozac), most commonly used
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
Why A Diagnosis Of The Mental Health Condition Of Kleptomania Alone Is Not A Legally Recognized Defense To A Criminal Charge In Colorado
When It comes to a mental illness defense, such as insanity, Colorado essentially follows what is called THE “modified” M’Naghten rule, meaning, in most cases kleptomania would be an unsuccessful insanity defense at trial.
The insanity defense under the M’Naghten rule means that the Defendant had a mental defect that either prevented him from understanding the nature and quality of his actions, or that prevented him from understanding that what he did was wrong.
Kleptomaniacs generally understand perfectly well what they’re doing. They know what they are doing is criminal. In fact, they suffer overwhelming guilt for their actions and understand and fear of arrest and punishment for their crimes.
The State of Colorado also uses the the “irresistible impulse” test for insanity. To understand this test for insanity, which most closely reflects on the nature of kleptomania, a closer look at the defense of insanity is necessary.
A Closer Look At The Defense Of Criminal Insanity In Colorado
Colorado defines insanity using a modified version of what’s called the M’Naghten Rule, along with another mental illness defense called the Irresistible Impulse defense.
Here is Colorado’s definition of insanity as that term is used in criminal cases:
16-8-101.5. C.R.S. Insanity Defined
(1) The applicable test of insanity shall be:
(a) A person who is so diseased or defective in mind at the time of the commission of the act as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to that act is not accountable; except that care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives and kindred evil conditions, for, when the act is induced by any of these causes, the person is accountable to the law; or
(b) A person who suffered from a condition of mind caused by mental disease or defect that prevented the person from forming a culpable mental state that is an essential element of a crime charged, but care should be taken not to confuse such mental disease or defect with moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives and kindred evil conditions because, when the act is induced by any of these causes, the person is accountable to the law.
(2) As used in subsection (1) of this section:
(a) “Diseased or defective in mind” does not refer to an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.
(b) “Mental disease or defect” includes only those severely abnormal mental conditions that grossly and demonstrably impair a person’s perception or understanding of reality and that are not attributable to the voluntary ingestion of alcohol or any other psychoactive substance but does not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.
Therefore, in Colorado, to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, your defense must fit one of two criteria..
1. Be “so diseased or defective in mind at the time of the commission of the act as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to that act,” or
2. Suffer “from a condition of mind caused by mental disease or defect that prevented the person from forming a culpable mental state that is an essential element of a crime charged.”
Criminal defendants who are found to be legally insane cannot be convicted of charges arising from that particular mental defect or disability.
While it can be argued that some kleptomaniacs are inherently unable to resist stealing at all times and places, most do not fit this category. And while it may be theoretically possible to present an expert psychiatrist who would testify at trial that a specific case of kleptomania is serious enough to meet the above tests for inanity, the defense would most likely fail.
By Educating The Prosecutor And Judge About Kleptomania – A Lawyer Can Help To Explain And Mitigate The Crime Of Theft In The Criminal Justice System
Kleptomaniacs are mentally ill. Often they will have high rates of substance abuse and mood and anxiety disorders. The mental illness is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The need to repeatedly steal items that are of no personal use and the act of stealing not being premeditated argue for treatment, not punishment. The act of stealing for the Kleptomaniac is filled with tension or anxiety followed by a feeling of satisfaction and gratification after committing theft., followed by shame and guilty after committing theft.
When a person who commits a crime has no real explanation why they must steal an item they could easily pay for, there can and often are, very deep psychological reasons for their criminal acts.
Prosecutors and Judges must treat a diagnosis of Kleptomania as a type of impulse control disorder which is characterized by problems with emotional or behavioral self-control and while Kleptomania may not serve as a complete legal defense – such as self defense – It IS one of the very few psychiatric disorders in which crime is compelled, not as an act of greed or malice, but by mental illness.
Kleptomaniacs act under a psychiatric compulsion to engage in theft as a way of reducing anxiety and not with “real criminal intent.”
Summary And Conclusion – Colorado Criminal Law – Understanding Kleptomania – The Compulsion To Steal
When a Colorado Defendant is faced with multiple acts of theft – it can be a serious situation involving a jail or even a prison sentence. The experienced criminal defense lawyer, recognizing the multiple acts of theft by his client are compelled by a mental health condition, will immediately advise that client to seek treatment that demonstrates to the District Attorney and later, to the Judge, that the condition is being treated and that the thefts will stop.
It is believed that fewer than 5% of shoplifters fit the category of Kleptomaniac. The mental health condition ruins lives. These individuals need our understanding and our compassion. They risk their careers, their families, their social status, and even a jail sentence because of their compulsion to steal.
Most Kleptomania live secret lives of shame because the ignorance surrounding the disorder. They are afraid of being misunderstood and they are afraid to seek mental health treatment.
Finally, an expert in the area said this in a criminal case that went to trial and was appealed:
[Kleptomania]” 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.”
We should not punish people with mental health diseases. We need to help them, and by helping them, help ourselves.
Colorado Criminal Law – Understanding Kleptomania – The Compulsion To Steal
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