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How an impulse-control disorder could mitigate a theft charge

Posted by William Walraven | Feb 02, 2022 | 0 Comments

When most of us think of reasons that people steal, we often think of people coveting items they cannot afford or stealing to resell the items elsewhere. Those kinds of motives are pretty much within people's control. However, some reasons for stealing are linked to a disorder characterized by out-of-control impulses. 

For those people, stealing can literally be a compulsion or addiction. What they swipe from a store counter or clothing rack, for example, is not an item they need or want. It may not even be something luxurious or extravagant. It all boils down to reflexively responding to an overwhelming urge due to kleptomania. 

What is kleptomania?

Kleptomania is “an impulse control disorder in which you have an inability to resist urges to steal,” according to WebMD. Some experts have suggested that it may be triggered by certain brain chemicals. A brain chemical, serotonin, aids in managing your emotions. If it is present at insufficient levels, your unwise impulses can surge out of control.

If you have a genuine addiction to committing theft, you may crave the “high” you get from a release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The pleasurable sensation you get from dopamine being released might compel you to seek that euphoric sensation again and again, even if it's by breaking the law.

Why would that matter?

Theft due to criminality is typically planned beforehand. Stealing because of impulse issues takes place suddenly and out of the blue. People who commit theft want what they steal; for people with impulse issues, satisfying that urge to steal is their priority, not the goods they grab. Thieves can have accomplices; kleptomaniacs act solo.

Ultimately, someone with kleptomania could present that information to the court as a mitigating factor in their case that might encourage the judge to be lenient. If you have an impulse-control issue and you are charged with theft, you would probably need medical documentation to substantiate your condition. It is an uncommon but very real problem that can make someone do things they would never ordinarily do.

About the Author

William Walraven

Education Golden Gate University School of Law, San Francisco, California Juris Doctor - 2008 University of California at Los Angeles B.A. - 2000 Major: Psychology Past Positions McGrane LLP, Associate Attorney Trepel, Greenfield, Sullivan and Draa LLP, Associate Attor...


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