The state Supreme Court ruled today that Chrystul Kizer is allowed to argue that she was justified in killing the man who trafficked her in a 4-3 decision.
Breaking away from the other conservative judges, Judge Rebecca Bradley joined the three liberal judges to issue the decision.
Caitlin Noonan is a staff attorney with Legal Action Wisconsin. Noonan outlines the basics of the case.
“Basically, the Wisconsin Supreme Court was looking at a specific statute in our law that allows for an affirmative defense for human trafficking survivors to be able to argue that the offense that they’ve been charged with is a direct result of their trafficking victimization,” Noonan says.
In the summer of 2018, Kizer shot and killed a man who she says had sexually abused and trafficked Kizer, who was 17 at the time. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, authorities did confirm that the man was being investigated for, and on the verge of arrest for, sex crimes against children.
After being arrested for the murder, Kizer was given multiple charges, including arson and 1st-Degree Intentional Homicide. Kizer has argued that, as a victim of child sex trafficking, Wisconsin law protects her for any offense committed as a directed result of the trafficking.
Originally, Circuit Court Judge David Wilk of Kenosha County tried to block the defense, but a court of appeals overruled that blocking. Judge Wilk eventually appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court, who ruled today that the defense was applicable in this case.
The Supreme Court did not rule that Kizer was justified in the killing, and only that the defense can be used.
Ian Henderson is the Director of Legal Services with the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a coalition providing support to sexual assault service providers in Wisconsin. The group filed an amicus curiae brief in the case advocating for Kizer.
Henderson says that today’s ruling simply affirmed what researchers already know about children experiencing trauma.
“When you look at, particularly adolescence who have experienced ongoing trauma like human trafficking they can respond in a way where the brain is basically trained to expect danger and are much more likely to have a fight-or-flight response, as opposed to the more rational side of the brain,” Henderson says.
Caitlin Noonan says that today’s case is interesting, because none of the justices fully dismissed Kizer’s defense.
“The main difference between the (opinions) is whether or not the statute offers a complete or mitigating defense. Regardless, both (sides) agreed that this is an affirmative defense that trafficking survivors can employ if they are able to provide certain evidence,” Noonan says.
Lawyers representing Kizer in the case applauded today’s Supreme Court decision, and said that the ruling protects the legal rights of victims of sex trafficking in Wisconsin.
Henderson agrees with that sentiment, and says that this ruling will have further implications, especially for Black women.
“It’s also important to note that there is a long history in this country of Black girls being criminalized for defending themselves, and there is an unequal application of our self-defense laws. Black girls may be perceived as less innocent, or hypersexual and needing less protection, and are therefore more likely to be incarcerated for their trauma and have less access to healing services,” Noonan says.
Chrystul Kizer’s next hearing is scheduled for September 9th.
Photo courtesy: Brian Standing / WORT Flickr