On June 2, 2021, a Wisconsin state appellate court overruled the trial court in Chrystul Kizer’s case. The trial court ruled that Kizer could not mount a trafficking defense during trial, meaning she was unable to present any evidence demonstrating that her alleged crimes resulted from her trafficking victimization. Kizer filed an interlocutory appeal on this decision. In its opinion, the appellate court rejected the trial court’s interpretation and sent the case back to the trial level, ordering the trial court to allow Kizer to raise her trafficking victimization as defense to all of her charges as is allowed by statute.
Case Background and Facts:
According to the criminal complaint, Kizer allegedly killed her trafficker, Randy Volar in June 2018. Volar began trafficking Kizer when she was 16 years old, arranging commercial sexual transactions with men who would pay to sexually assault a minor. He was arrested in February 2018 and charged with trafficking and possession of child pornography. Volar was later released without posting bail or receiving a court summons. Kizer was subsequently charged with numerous felonies following Volar’s death, including first-degree intentional homicide. Kizer has consistently maintained that she was defending herself on the night Volar died. (Further discussion of this case can be found in our 2020 Annual Report).
At her initial trial, Kizer attempted to invoke a Wisconsin statute that provides trafficking victims a defense for any offense related to their victimization, but the trial court found it did not apply for violent crimes like homicide. Though the Wisconsin statute provides the defense for “any offense”, the trial court ruled that Kizer could not raise it because a “blanket” affirmative defense would lead to an “absurd result.”
Appellate Court Overrules Trial Court:
Kizer appealed the trial court’s decision, and the appellate court found in her favor. In its opinion, the appellate court set forth the reasons why it rejected the trial court’s decision that Kizer could not raise a statutory affirmative defense available to trafficking victims. The appellate court found that the defense applies to charges for any offense, including homicide, sending the case back to the trial court and instructing it to allow Kizer to use the statute as a complete defense to all of her charges. Given the appellate court’s decision, Kizer’s attorney plans to again raise the same affirmative defense and can now present evidence that her offenses directly resulted from her victimization.
Kizer’s case is the first time any court has considered whether trafficking victims may raise their victimization as an affirmative defense to charges for homicide or other violent crimes. Currently, there are thirty-five states that have similar affirmative defense statutes. The Wisconsin appellate court’s decision is groundbreaking, and may offer trafficking victims more legal protections throughout the country should courts and legislatures adopt its interpretation. For too long trafficking victims have been criminalized, stigmatized, and isolated 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 appellate court’s decision in Kizer’s case and encourages legislators and members of the judiciary to expand their understanding of trafficking and trafficking victimization.