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State Supreme Court rules sex trafficking victim can invoke immunity defense

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State Supreme Court rules sex trafficking victim can invoke immunity defense

Jul 06, 2022 | 3:30 pm ET
By Henry Redman
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State Supreme Court rules sex trafficking victim can invoke immunity defense
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Photo by Mike Steele | Flickr CC BY 2.0

In an opinion on Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of the now-22-year-old woman accused of killing the Kenosha man who had been sex trafficking her and other girls. 

In a 4-3 opinion, the court ruled that Kizer, who in 2018 shot and killed Randall Volar III shortly before authorities planned to arrest and charge him for sex crimes against children, can argue at trial that she’s not guilty through a provision of state law that allows sex and human trafficking victims to build a defense for crimes they commit as “a direct result of being trafficked.” 

“Chrystul Kizer deserves a chance to present her defense and today’s decision will allow her to do that,” Colleen Marion, one of Kizer’s public defenders, said in a statement Wednesday. “While the legal process on this matter is far from over, we, along with Chrystul and her family, believe the decision today affirms the legal rights provided by Wisconsin statute to victims of sex trafficking facing criminal charges.”

In an unusual alignment, conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley joined the court’s three liberals in the majority. Regular swing vote, conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn, joined the two other conservative justices in a dissenting opinion. 

In June 2018, Kizer traveled from Milwaukee to Kenosha to Volar’s house. She told detectives that after she arrived, she “was tired of [him] touching her,” and shot him before setting his house on fire and driving away in his car. She was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, operating a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent, arson, possession of a firearm by a felon and bail jumping.

At a pre-trial hearing, Kizer’s lawyers suggested she would be building a defense around the allegations that Volar had abused and trafficked her. Prosecutors in the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office sought to prevent that defense and a Kenosha County Circuit Court judge disallowed it, saying that because she wasn’t charged with human trafficking that defense wasn’t available to her. 

Kizer then appealed the circuit court’s decision. The appellate court reversed the circuit court judge’s decision, which led to the district attorney’s office appealing to the Supreme Court. 

In the majority decision, Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote that Kizer does not need to have been charged with violations of the state’s trafficking statutes and that there should be a broad interpretation of what constitutes “a direct result” of trafficking.

“Unlike many crimes, which occur at discrete points in time, human trafficking can trap victims in a cycle of seemingly inescapable abuse that can continue for months or even years,” Dallet wrote. “For that reason, even an offense that is unforeseeable or that does not occur immediately after a trafficking offense is committed can be a direct result of the trafficking offense, so long as there is still the necessary logical connection between the offense and the trafficking.”

Also at question in the case was whether, if Kizer is allowed to use the defense that the crimes were committed as a result of her being trafficked, she would be presenting a complete defense against her first-degree homicide charge or a mitigating defense which would knock the charge down to second-degree homicide. 

The majority found that Kizer is allowed to use her trafficking as a complete defense. In the dissent, Justice Patience Roggensack wrote that this interpretation went against common law interpretations that state coercion isn’t a complete defense for homicide. 

“Today’s decision brings needed clarity regarding the scope of the affirmative defense for survivors of the vile crime of human trafficking,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, whose office argued against Kizer in court, said in a statement.

Kizer’s trial is now moving forward. A status conference has been scheduled for Sept. 9.