A woman accused of killing a man can argue at trial that she was justified because he was sex-trafficking her, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a decision that could help define the limits of legal immunity for victims of the crime. deals across the country.
The justices ruled 4-3 that a 2008 state law absolving trafficking victims of criminal liability for any crime committed as a direct result of trafficking extends to first-degree intentional homicide. However, they said Chrystul Kizer must first provide evidence to a trial judge that his decision to kill Randall Volar was related to trafficking before he can invoke immunity.
“Chrystul Kizer deserves the opportunity to present her defense and today’s decision will allow her to do so,” said Kizer’s attorney, Katie York. “While the legal process on this matter is far from over, we, along with Chrystul and her family, believe that today’s decision affirms the legal rights provided by Wisconsin statute to victims of sex trafficking facing criminal charges.” .
Kizer, 22, claims he met Volar on a sex trafficking website. She says he sexually assaulted her and sold her to others for sex. According to court documents, Kizer put a gun in her backpack in June 2018 and told her boyfriend that she was going to shoot Volar because she was tired of him touching her.
She traveled from Milwaukee to Volar’s home in Kenosha, shot him in the head, burned down his house and stole his BMW, according to court documents. Kizer was 17 years old at the time, old enough to be considered an adult in the Wisconsin criminal justice system. She faces multiple charges, including arson and first-degree intentional homicide, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
Nearly 40 states have passed laws giving victims of trafficking at least some level of criminal immunity, according to Legal Action of Wisconsin, which provides legal help to low-income people.
Kizer’s attorneys had planned to invoke Wisconsin’s immunity law at his trial, but Kenosha County Circuit Judge David Wilk refused to allow it. He decreed that immunity extends only to charges related to trafficking, such as restraining someone, extortion, prostitution or slave labor. However, an appeals court ruled last year that Kizer could argue that the law protects her from prosecution.
State prosecutors have asked the high court to reverse that decision, holding that immunity statutes cannot extend to homicide. Deputy Attorney General Timothy Barber argued in March that Kizer’s interpretation would create an unprecedented expansion of the self-defense doctrine, removing any doubt about whether killing someone was reasonable or necessary.
The court found that the scope of immunity for trafficking victims is ambiguous, but does not include any limiting language, and therefore applies to homicide. If Kizer can prove a connection between her actions and being trafficked, prosecutors will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defense does not apply, the court said.
“The defendant must present some evidence upon which a reasonable jury can determine the defense applies,” Justice Rebecca Dallet, a liberal, wrote for the majority. “Therefore, our interpretation does not create the kind of blanket immunity for victims of human trafficking that the State fears.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said the decision “provides necessary clarity regarding the scope of the affirmative defense for survivors of the vile crime of human trafficking.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision is not binding on other states, but it could inform the strategies of lawyers in similar cases in other parts of the country, legal experts say. Anti-violence groups lined up to support Kizer, filing reports that victims of trafficking often feel so trapped that they believe they have to take matters into their own hands.
Ian Henderson, director of policy and systems for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, one of the groups that signed the reports, praised the court’s decision. He said victims of trafficking often react with a fight-or-flight mentality and the ruling “prevents them from being criminalized for fighting back.”
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Kizer spoke about her case in a jailhouse interview with The Washington Post that was published in 2019.