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Wisconsin Supreme Court: sex trafficking is a defense for murder

On Behalf of | Jul 13, 2022 | Criminal Appeals

If someone is trafficked sexually and, as a result of that, kills their trafficker, they may be innocent under Wisconsin law, according to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The initial question is whether the sex-trafficking victim committed the homicide as a direct result of being trafficked. If they can demonstrate facts that a reasonable jury would believe it was as a direct result of the trafficking, they can assert self-defense.

This is due to a Wisconsin law passed in 2008 that absolves sex-trafficking victims of any offense committed as a direct result of their trafficking. State prosecutors argued that this law surely could not extend to murder.

By a 4-3 vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that it does.

The case before the high court involved alleged sex-trafficking victim Chrystul Kizer. According to reports, she met Randall Volar on a website that has since been pulled down from facilitating sex trafficking. Chrystul says he both sexually assaulted her and sold her to other men for sexual purposes. That meets the definition of sex trafficking.

In 2018, when Chrystul was only 17, she went to Volar’s house in Kenosha, killed him with a gunshot to the head, burned down his house and stole his car.

Unfortunately, 17 is old enough to be tried as an adult in Wisconsin, and the state charged Chrystul with first-degree intentional homicide, along with arson and car theft. The homicide charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Chrystul initially tried to raise the sex-trafficking defense at her trial, but the judge would not allow it. He said that the sex-trafficking defense only applied to crimes closely connected to the sex trafficking, such as prostitution. Chrystul was therefore found guilty.

Later, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed Chrystul’s conviction, ruling that the sex-trafficking defense does apply to homicide, as long as it is a direct result of the trafficking.

The state appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which affirmed that the defense applies in homicide cases.

How this will work is that a sex-trafficking victim will assert this defense upon being charged. If a reasonable jury could conclude that the victim committed the crime as a direct result of the trafficking, the defense will be allowed. Importantly, the supreme court also ruled that it was a complete defense to a homicide charge that could lead to acquittal, not just a reduced offense.

At trial, the prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was not committed as a direct result of sex trafficking.

This is a big win for sex trafficking victims across the US

Forty states have passed laws similar to Wisconsin’s that excuse sex-trafficking victims for any criminal laws they are forced to break due to their trafficking. Other states may look to this decision as a guide for how to handle these situations.

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