On July 6, 2022, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of a Wisconsin state appellate court holding that, under Wisconsin law, victims of human trafficking have “an affirmative defense for any offense committed as a direct result’ of trafficking.” Significantly, the Court held that this is a complete defense to all criminal offenses, including first-degree intentional homicide.
The Court further explained that any offense is “committed as a direct result” of human trafficking 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.” In other words, the defense does not apply to every criminal offense that the defendant committed– instead, it applies only to those offenses that were logically and causally connected to the individual’s trafficking victimization.
This appellate ruling means that, for Chrystul Kizer, if the trial court determines there was “some evidence” her crimes were a direct result of her trafficking victimization, then Kizer will be permitted to present the affirmative trafficking defense at her trial.
We had previously reported on this case in July 2019 when the Wisconsin appellate court held that Kizer could raise the human trafficking defense to all the charges brought against her. The charges were brought against Kizer after she allegedly killed her trafficker, Randy Volar in June 2018. After his death, Kizer 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.
Kizer allegedly killed Volar after he trafficked her for several years. Kizer and Volar met in 2016, when Kizer was 16 years old. For over a year, Volar initially gave Kizer gifts and money in exchange for sexual favors. Eventually, Volar filmed his encounters with Kizer and trafficked her through the now shuttered website, Backpage.com. On the day Kizer allegedly killed Volar, Volar picked Kizer up from her boyfriend’s house and brought her to his apartment. Once there, Volar allegedly tried to pin Kizer down and rape her. Kizer struggled to free herself, and when she did, she allegedly shot Volar. She was 17 years old at the time.
Kizer’s case was the first time any court considered whether or not trafficking victims could argue their victimization as an affirmative defense to homicide or other violent crime charges. Currently, there are several other states with similarly broad affirmative defense statutes, including Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming. The Wisconsin appellate court’s decision is groundbreaking and may offer trafficking victims more legal protections.
For too long, trafficking victims have been punished for conduct that is a direct result of their victimization. Legislation advancing and protecting the rights of victims of trafficking is incredibly important, but it is only useful if it is implemented properly and paired with education for law enforcement and the judiciary. The CSE Institute supports the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in Kizer’s case and encourages legislators and members of the judiciary to expand their understanding of trafficking and trafficking victimization. The CSE Institute recognizes that Kizer is a trafficking victim and believes that further incarceration is unwarranted.
Even after today’s ruling, the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office is planning to continue its prosecution of Kizer. The CSE Institute will continue to provide updates in this matter.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.