Curious Judge Grants Mental Health Diversion for Woman with Bulimia Eating Disorder


By Eric Rodriguez

SANTA BARBARA, CA – A woman who has been in and out of the legal system since the 1980s was granted mental health diversion here in Santa Barbara County Superior Court by the judge because of her bulimia eating disorder—the prosecution strongly disagreed.

“Jane Doe”*—represented by Robert Goodman—made an appearance this week in front of Judge Brian Hill to settle on her current charges, including robbery, commercial shoplifting and battery.

*(NOTE: “Jane Doe” is not the real name of the accused. The Vanguard does not usually print the real name of misdemeanor suspects.)

“I think she has a problem with taking other people’s stuff and I think that if in the criminal justice system we start blaming every type of behavior on a mental health issue that we’re going to lead ourselves down a path that we shouldn’t be going. I do not believe that her behavior is being caused by her bulimia,” argued Deputy District Attorney Adam Clark Howland.

Judge Hill opened the court stating that he had read the entire article submitted by the defense regarding the connection between bulimia and shoplifting, because it sparked his curiosity.

He also stated that he, “like all of us, has known people with bulimia–who suffer from it, and you can tell a thing from even just the body type” and stated to Jane Doe, “I have known people that suffer from the same disorder and you don’t look like somebody that suffers from that disorder…is there a reason why?”

The accused replied, “I have been working with my doctor for nearly a year.”

Judge Hill then noted, “She has a pretty consistent history of committing these offenses, And so, one of my thoughts was, well the criminal justice system hasn’t worked, she’s been in and out of the system on shoplifting charges and related offenses, And so, I don’t know if there’s a big downside to trying something different. I’m inclined to grant medical diversion.”

DDA Howland responded, “Your Honor, it is very clear from the literature that there is not an agreement in the scientific community that bulimia causes shoplifting.”

Howland continued, “[T]he information that I cited shows that shoplifting behavior precedes the eating disorder. In one of the charges after she has left the store she backs up with her car and hits a clerk…this additional behavior is in no way addressed by any of the doctors whatsoever. I’m sure we can craft probationary terms that would include her receiving treatment.

A letter from the doctor of Jane Doe stated “that if it weren’t for the eating disorder there wouldn’t be shoplifting or aggressive behavior” which Judge Hill agreed is a speculative opinion, but added, “maybe this works. What we’ve tried in the past hasn’t worked, and I’m willing to try it. ”

Judge Hill said to Jane Doe, “It’s time to stop engaging in this behavior. You’re not going to get another break like this. Mr. Howland makes a good point…this looks like a character flaw. So if you come back to the criminal justice system, you’ll be doing a fair amount of time in custody.”

The terms and conditions will be set Dec. 15.


About The Author

Eric is a senior at UCSB double majoring in Spanish and English Literature. He is from Oxnard, California and has an interest in law.

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