The Harsh (and Ridiculous) Condition of the Kleptomaniac

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Sometimes the intersection of legal, social, and health issues can be quite complex. Think about a common man, a householder, or a girl looking for a husband at the mall. As always, they went there to look around and eventually buy a pair of shoes, a top, or their favourite dish at the food department.

Imagine them suffering from an unstoppable urge to put an object in their pocket as if in a state of unconsciousness, only to be brought back to reality when the anti-shoplifting alarm rings. Yes, it could be.

A ruling from the Italian Supreme Court dated October 5th, 1982, discusses kleptomania. According to the interpretation of the Cassation, kleptomania can constitute a cause of incapacity to understand and will, and therefore, save the serial thief.

The court was asked in particular whether kleptomania is a mental defect. The answer was affirmative, at least under certain conditions. Kleptomania is traditionally defined as an impulsive tendency to theft, found in multiple mental illnesses.

A person suffering from a disease that causes such an impulsive tendency can be considered mentally ill under the terms of articles 88 or 89 of the penal code if their capacity to understand and will is totally or partially excluded. This conclusion is strictly related to the concrete circumstances of the specific case.

However, it’s important to note that for kleptomania to be considered a mental defect, it must be severe enough to affect the self-determination of the offender and must be documented through a medical certificate.

The simple impulse, the instinct to steal, the whim, the dissatisfaction with what one has, the compulsive desire to have others’ stuff cannot therefore be considered kleptomania and does not exclude the responsibility of the thief.

The 1980s were a time of growing awareness and understanding of mental health issues, including impulse control disorders. This societal context could have played a role in the timing of the ruling. It was also a time of openness and tolerance. Later the opinion became severe but the idea of a carefree time free from ideologies persists. (Redazione)


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