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Sex Trafficking Victim Chrystul Kizer Wins Wisconsin Supreme Court

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In a landmark decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a teen who killed her sexual abuser has a chance to be cleared of all charges.

The decision is a major victory for Chrystul Kizer, now 22, a black woman serving life in prison for the crimes she committed at age 17, and for anti-trafficking advocates who have campaigned for decades for laws to protect people. like Kizer.

Kizer does not deny that she killed 34-year-old Randall Phillip Volar III in 2018. For years, she fought for the opportunity to prove to a judge and eventually a jury that her actions were the “direct result” of the exploitation and abuse to which Volar exposed her. She hoped to use a never-before-seen Wisconsin law designed to provide legal protection for some trafficking victims, who are often forced or cornered to commit crimes while being exploited.

He sexually abused underage girls. Then one of them killed him.

The law states that such victims have a positive defense for “any offense committed as a direct result” of human trafficking. But prosecutors and Kizer’s attorneys disagree on what “instant result” really means.

They’ve also debated whether the law would provide Kizer with a full defense of the charges, meaning she could be acquitted, or whether her charges should be changed from first-degree murder to second-degree murder — meaning she’s still on the run. must offer up to 60 years in prison.

The court settled the case in a 4-3 ruling, upholding the decision of a lower court and sided with Kizer on both issues.

“We’ll hold onto that” [the law] is a full defense against a charge of first-degree willful manslaughter,” Judge Rebecca Frank Dallet wrote.

Now the case of Kizer, which has been stalled for years, can continue.

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

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

“Chrystul Kizer deserves a chance to present her defense, and today’s decision will enable her to do so,” Colleen Marion, one of Kizer’s public defenders, said in a statement Wednesday. “While the legal process in this matter is far from complete, we, along with Chrystul and her family, believe that today’s decision affirms the legal rights afforded by Wisconsin law to sex trafficking victims who face criminal charges. prosecuted.”

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

The news is a triumph for those who have gathered around Kizer. There are more than 1.5 million signatures on a Change.org petition asking for all charges against her to be dropped. Celebrities and leading sex trafficking survivors, including authors Cyntoia Brown-Long and Sara Kruzan, have argued that Kizer needs therapy, not prison. Trafficking advocates and advocates, including those who have represented victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein, believe Kizer’s case is a clear example of the extremes that trafficking victims sometimes go to in order to survive.

Kizer was first arrested in 2018, after Kenosha police found Volar in the head and set his house on fire. The detectives already knew who he was. Records show that Volar, who was white, was under investigation for sexually abusing a black child. Police had recently found ‘hundreds’ of videos of child sexual abuse in his home during a raid, including videos he’d filmed of his own abusing black girls.

One of those girls, the records show, was Kizer.

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

Read The Washington Post’s Investigation into Chrystul Kizer’s Case

But while Volar was under investigation by the Kenosha police, they released him for months. One evening in June, he paid Kizer to take an Uber to his house. Kizer, who has not yet been able to produce evidence in court, told police she was tired of Volar touching her and that he was on top of her on the floor when she went to the gun she had carried in her bag. In interviews with The Post, she said Volar was trying to rip off her jeans. She said she set fire to his house and fled in his car because she panicked.

Despite video evidence that Volar sexually assaulted Kizer, prosecutors chose to file the maximum possible charge against her: first-degree willful manslaughter, which carries an automatic life sentence in Wisconsin. They argued that evidence shows that Kizer planned the murder, lied about it and only tried to steal Volar’s BMW.

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

Kizer was jailed for two years before supporters paid her $400,000 bail in the summer of 2020 using bonds raised after George Floyd’s murder. She gained even more attention in 2021 after a jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager, in the same county where Kizer is being indicted. Rittenhouse argued that he acted in self-defense when he killed two people at a protest in 2020. Kizer has also argued that she acted in self-defense.

But while people around the world have heard her story, her potential fate has remained the same as the appeals process dragged on.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision provides a clear path for what it will have to prove to gain the protection of the affirmative defense law.

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

The judges have defined what “direct result” should mean in the eyes of the law: “if there is a logical, causal link between the crime and the trafficking in human beings, so that the crime is not to a significant extent the result of other events, circumstances , or considerations separate from the human trafficking violation.”

This interpretation is even broader than the appeals court’s definition, which ruled that Kizer would have to prove that her crimes were a “logical and foreseeable consequence” of human trafficking. Instead, the state’s Supreme Court recognized the unique, ongoing trauma that victims of human trafficking have experienced.

Unlike many crimes, which happen at discrete times, trafficking in human beings can trap victims in a cycle of seemingly inescapable abuse that can last for months or even years. For that reason, the judges wrote, Kizer only needs to prove that there is a “necessary logical connection” between her crimes and the human trafficking she experienced, even if “other factors are at play.”

Legal experts noted that even the three dissident judges, all of whom are conservative, did not appear to object to the majority’s definition of “immediate outcome”. Instead, they argued that the statute should not provide a full defense against murder.

But in a rare move, Judge Rebecca Grassl Bradley broke from her fellow conservatives and joined the court’s liberal bloc. During pleadings, Bradley had spoken out about the severity of the victimization Kizer was experiencing.

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

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

“There’s something disheartening and disheartening to say that this young woman just wants to explain the circumstances of her victimization that led to this horrible event, and she’s unable to do that,” said Caitlin Noonan of Legal Action Wisconsin. “Now the court agrees that Chrystul should be given the opportunity to tell her story. That’s all she’s asked for from the start.”

The decision could have implications far beyond Wisconsin.

Most states have some version of laws protecting trafficking victims who are accused of crimes. But most states list specific crimes covered by the protection. Victims in many states can only seek protection against a conviction for prostitution. Other states go wider and list crimes that victims of human trafficking are often coerced into by their abusers, such as carrying drugs or committing fraud.

The anti-trafficking movement has pushed for laws that give victims much more leeway, pointing to the severe psychological and physical trauma victims must endure — and the way it changes their brain chemistry and decision-making.

“For far too long there has been this tragic pattern of trafficking victims being punished rather than protected by the justice system,” said Lindsey Ruff, a lawyer who represented multiple groups in a brief support for Kizer. “This statute and case could serve as a model for other states seeking to provide this kind of broad protection for victims of human trafficking.”

The Wisconsin ruling could also bolster efforts to pass a proposed federal law named after Kruzan that would give judges more discretion in handling cases involving child trafficking victims.

Meanwhile, Kizer’s case could finally progress. Her next court hearing is scheduled for September.

correction

In an earlier version of this story, Randall Volar’s suffix was wrong. His full name was Randall Phillip Volar III.

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