Chrystul Kizer case: sex trafficking can be used as defense in homicide, Wisconsin court says

Chrystul Kizer faces charges of first-degree homicide, among others, in the 2018 of her alleged trafficker, Randall Volar

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Chrystul Kizer, an alleged sex-trafficking victim, can use her experience being trafficked as a defense for her decision to shoot and kill her alleged trafficker, Randall Volar, when she was 17, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

Wisconsin authorities charged Kizer, now 22, with first-degree homicide, operator a motor vehicle without the owner's consent, arson, possession of a firearm by a felon and bail jumping following the 2018 incident during which she fatally shot Volar, who was 34 at the time of his death, according to the court's 4-3 ruling. 

"In Wisconsin, victims of human trafficking or child sex trafficking have ‘an affirmative defense for any offense committed as a direct result’ of the trafficking," Justice Rebecca Frank Dallet wrote in the majority opinion. The court focused its opinion on two questions: what it means for an offense to be "committed as a direct result" of trafficking, and whether the state's law is a "complete defense to first-degree intentional homicide."

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"We hold that an offense is ‘committed as a direct result’ of a violation of the human-trafficking statutes if there is a logical, causal connection between the offense and the trafficking such that the offense is not the result, in significant part, of other events, circumstances, or considerations apart from the trafficking violation. We also hold that [the Wisconsin trafficking law] is a complete defense to first-degree intentional homicide," Dallet wrote. 

Volar allegedly repeatedly sexually abused Kizer beginning when she was 16 years old or younger in exchange for money after she found him on a sex-trafficking website. Volar also apparently sold her to buyers and filmed some of his sexual encounters with Kizer and other minors, according to court documents.

In June 2018, she traveled from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Volar's Kenosha home, where she shot him and attempted to set his home on fire before driving away in his vehicle. Kizer told detectives that she "had gotten upset, and she was tired of [him] touching her."

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"Chrystul Kizer deserves a chance to present her defense and today’s decision will allow her to do that," Kizer’s attorney, Katie York, told The Associated Press. "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."

Unlike other crimes, Dallet continued, "human trafficking can trap victims in a cycle of seemingly inescapable abuse that can continue for months or even years. … 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."

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The Wisconsin court also said, however, that Kizer must prove her decision to shoot Volar was a direct result of trafficking at trial court before she can invoke immunity. If she can show a connection, prosecutors will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defense doesn’t apply, the court said.

Assistant Attorney General Timothy Barber had argued in March that Kizer’s interpretation of the trafficking immunity law would create an unprecedented expansion of the self-defense doctrine, eliminating any questions about whether killing someone was reasonable or necessary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.