Chrystul Kizer, sex trafficking victim, wins in Wisconsin Supreme Court

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In a landmark decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a teenage girl who killed her sex attacker could be given the opportunity to be acquitted of all charges.

The decision is a major victory for Chrystul Kizer, now 22, a black woman who faces life in prison for crimes she committed when she was 17, and for anti-trafficking advocates who have spent decades pushing for laws to protect people like Kizer.

Kizer does not deny killing Randall Phillip Volar III, 34, in 2018. For years, she fought for the opportunity to show a judge, and eventually a jury, that her actions were the “result direct” of the exploitation and abuse to which Volar has subjected it. She hoped to use a never-before-used Wisconsin law designed to provide legal protection for certain trafficking victims, who are often coerced or coerced into committing crimes while being exploited.

He sexually abused minors. Then one of them killed him.

The law provides that these victims have an affirmative defense for “any offense committed as a direct result” of trafficking. But the prosecutors and Kizer’s lawyers have disagreed on what “direct result” really means.

They also argued over whether the law would provide Kizer with a full defense to the charges, meaning she could be acquitted, or whether her charge should be changed from first-degree homicide to second-degree homicide – which which means she would still face 60 years in prison.

The court, in a 4-3 decision, settled the case, upholding a lower court’s decision and siding with Kizer on both issues.

“We hold that [the law] is a complete defense to a charge of first-degree intentional homicide,” Judge Rebecca Frank Dallet wrote.

Now Kizer’s case, which has been stalled for years, can continue.

If a judge agrees that there is evidence that her crimes were the direct result of trafficking, she can make the same argument to a jury.

If the jury sides with her, she could be acquitted of some or all of the charges against her.

“Chrystul Kizer deserves a chance to present his defense, and today’s decision will allow him to do that,” Colleen Marion, one of Kizer’s public defenders, said in a statement Wednesday. “Although the legal proceedings in this matter are far from over, we, along with Chrystul and her family, believe that today’s decision affirms the legal rights afforded by Wisconsin law to victims of sex trafficking who facing criminal charges.”

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

The news is a triumph for those who rallied behind Kizer. There are over 1.5 million signatures on a Change.org petition calling for all charges against her to be dropped. Celebrities and high-profile sex trafficking survivors, including authors Cyntoia Brown-Long and Sara Kruzan, have argued that Kizer needs therapy, not jail. Anti-sex trafficking advocates and lawyers, including those who have represented victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein, believe Kizer’s case is a clear example of the extremes to which victims of trafficking sometimes go to survive.

Kizer was first arrested in 2018, after Kenosha police found Volar shot in the head and his house burned down. Investigators already knew who he was. Records show Volar, who was white, was being investigated for sexually abusing a black child. Police had recently found “hundreds” of child sexual abuse videos at his home during a raid, including videos he had filmed of his own abusing black girls.

One of those girls, according to the records, was Kizer.

Kizer told The Washington Post in 2019 that Volar paid her in cash, dinners and gifts. Under Wisconsin and federal law, this meets the definition of child sex trafficking, as Volar exchanged something of value for sex. Regardless of the circumstances, minors cannot legally consent to be involved in the sex trade.

Read the Washington Post investigation into the Chrystul Kizer affair

But while Volar was investigated by Kenosha police, they allowed him to go free for months. One night in June, he paid for Kizer to take an Uber to his house. Kizer, who has not yet been able to present evidence in court, told police she was tired of Volar touching her and that he was on top of her on the ground when she went to get the gun she had brought in her purse. In interviews with The Post, she said Volar was trying to rip her jeans off. She said she set her house on fire and fled in her car because she panicked.

Despite video evidence that Volar was sexually abusing Kizer, prosecutors opted to bring the maximum possible charge against her: first-degree intentional homicide, which carries an automatic life sentence in Wisconsin. They argued that the evidence shows Kizer planned the murder, lied about it, and was only trying to steal Volar’s BMW.

The Affirmative Defense Act, Assistant Attorney General Timothy M. Barber argued in March, “is not a license for a victim to kill a trafficker.”

Kizer was jailed for two years before her supporters posted her $400,000 bail in the summer of 2020 using bond funds raised after the murder of George Floyd. She received even more attention in 2021, after a jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager, in the same county where Kizer is charged. Rittenhouse argued he was acting in self-defense when he killed two people during a protest in 2020. Kizer also argued she was acting in self-defense.

But while people around the world learned of her story, her potential fate remained the same as the appeal process dragged on.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision provides a clear pathway for what she will need to prove to qualify for affirmative defense law protection.

[Chrystul Kizer, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and a watershed sex-trafficking case]

The judges defined what “direct result” should mean in the eyes of the law: “if there is a logical causal link between the offense and the trafficking, such that the offense does not result, in large part, from other events, circumstances, or considerations other than the trafficking offence. »

This interpretation is even broader than the definition of the appeals court, which ruled that Kizer had to prove that his crimes were a “logical and foreseeable consequence” of being trafficked. Instead, the state High Court recognized the unique and lasting trauma experienced by victims of trafficking.

“Unlike many crimes, which occur at specific times, human trafficking can trap victims in a seemingly inescapable cycle of abuse that can continue for months or even years,” the opinion said. majority. For this reason, the judges wrote, Kizer will only have to prove that there is a “necessary logical connection” between her crimes and the trafficking she suffered, even if there are “other factors stakes”.

Legal experts noted that even the three dissenting justices, all of whom are conservative, did not appear to dispute the majority opinion’s definition of “direct result”. Instead, they argued that the law should not provide a complete defense against homicide.

But in a rare move, Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley broke with her conservative colleagues to side with the court’s liberal bloc. During the closing arguments, Bradley had expressed the seriousness of the victimization suffered by Kizer.

“They found evidence that this 34-year-old was paying girls for sex, using them to do child pornography, prostituting them to other men,” Bradley said in March.

With Bradley on their side, the judges made it clear what the ruling means for Kizer — and other trafficking victims charged with crimes that may not be as serious as murder. The ruling creates a pathway for these victims to show the courts how their exploitation was a factor in what they did.

“There is something disheartening and heartbreaking about saying that this young woman just wants to explain the circumstances of her victimization that led to this horrific event, and she is unable to,” said Caitlin Noonan. of Legal Action Wisconsin. “Now the court agrees that Chrystul should be given the opportunity to come forward with her story. That’s all she’s been asking for from the start.

The decision will likely have effects far beyond Wisconsin.

The majority of states have some version of the laws to protect victims of trafficking who are accused of crimes. But most states name specific crimes for which the protection applies. In many states, victims can only seek protection if convicted of prostitution. Other states go further by naming the crimes that victims of trafficking are often coerced into by their abusers, such as transporting drugs or fraud.

The anti-trafficking movement has pushed for laws that give victims far more leeway, highlighting the severe psychological and physical trauma victims endure — and how it alters their brain chemistry and decision-making.

“For too long there has been this tragic pattern of trafficking victims being punished rather than protected by the justice system,” said Lindsey Ruff, an attorney who represented multiple groups in a brief supporting Kizer. “This law and this case can serve as a model for other states wishing to provide these kinds of broad protections to victims of trafficking.”

The Wisconsin decision could also bolster attempts to pass a federal bill, named after Kruzan, that would give judges more discretion in handling cases of trafficked children.

In the meantime, Kizer’s case could finally move forward. His next court hearing is scheduled for September.

correction

An earlier version of this story misrepresented Randall Volar’s suffix. His full name was Randall Phillip Volar III.

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