February 1, 2006

State objects to bulimia defence

State objects to bulimia defence

Mark Oberhardt

A WOMAN who stole $51,000 from her employer should not have escaped jail simply because she had the eating disorder bulimia, a court was told yesterday.

In the Court of Appeal in Brisbane, prosecutor Ross Martin, SC, was making submissions on behalf of Queensland's Attorney-General, Linda Lavarch, who wanted to overturn a judge's decision to wholly suspend a three-year jail term imposed on Jennifer Aileen La Rosa.

The court heard it was the first time in Australia the effects of the eating disorder bulimia had been discussed by an appellate court.
In the District Court late last year, La Rosa, 23, pleaded guilty to stealing as a servant while working as a till operator at Hawkins Home and Garden Centre, Chandler, between November 2003 and July 2004.
La Rosa stole small amounts of cash which she used to buy food to satisfy her constant compulsion to eat, which was followed by purging. In all, she took $51,214.10 during the eight-month period.
Judge Helen O'Sullivan wholly suspended the three-year jail sentence so that La Rosa could continue to receive treatment and make restitution. However, Mrs Lavarch appealed on the grounds the sentence was manifestly inadequate.
In the Court of Appeal yesterday, Mr Martin said courts should not be hospitals where the doctors focused on the patients alone. He said in criminal cases there were more people to be considered than just an offender who was the subject of medical or psychiatric reports.
Mr Martin said in cases of fraud against employers it was possible for a defendant to stay out of jail if the mitigating features were exceptional.
"A defendant has to have a very good story to tell and, in this case, she does not have a good enough one," Mr Martin said.
However, barrister Tony Kimmins, for La Rosa, said the sole reason for the offences was the fact his client suffered from bulimia. He said that, when combined with other mitigating factors, it was clear La Rosa's sentence was not manifestly inadequate.
"The only motivation for the offences were (sic) the eating disorder," Mr Kimmins said.
"She also has on her side no previous convictions, her youth, genuine remorse and an early guilty plea."
He said that, if the Court of Appeal believed the sentence was inadequate, it could increase it through probation, an intensive correction order or community service. All of those would allow La Rosa to remain in the community.
Mr Kimmins said there had been no other cases of bulimia being discussed in appellate courts.
Justice Pat Keane questioned how bulimia could be linked to frauds: "We do not have a rash of bulimic embezzlers."
Mr Kimmins replied bulimia was a recognised psychiatric illness.
The Court of Appeal reserved its judgment.


  1. Although I am not saying stealing is ok, I am saying that I part agree with the Woman not having a long term jail sentence. Why? because not all drug addicts or alcoholics go into jail for stealing, some do yes but then some don't. Instead they get into programmes to help them over come their addictions. I think considering this woman doesn't have any previous convictions, has admitted why she was stealing (a huge thing to do) that she should be offered some kind of treatment.
    I know when I was in the midst of my bulimia, even though I didn't steal so much, I did steal money and food from my parents. The money I stole didn't give me a thrill or a good time, it paid for laxatives and more food. I was ill, I regret it now.
    I guess what I am trying to say is that when I wasn't in recovery I did a lot of things which were out of character for me. Should I have been punished more severely?

  2. I would second that. As a first time offender, steaeling for the reasons she did and openly admitting her guilt, I think she should recieve help. NG by reason of insanity is recognized by the court. Not that I'd wish to label myself insane, but this is a psychiatric disorder that takes over many aspects of our beings. I, too, did things I regret when I was my sickest. Be that stealing, or just spending all my money and bouncing or not paying bills. It was awful. I didn't want to, but that ED voice took over all the rational reasoning powers I had. If someone can admit that, I say she should get the best help she can, make restitution and get on with life as best she is able. I wish her all the best...


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