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Could a sex trafficking victim argue immunity in court for a homicide in Wisconsin?

A 17-year-old girl killed a man who had been selling her as a prostitute. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin needs to decide whether she can argue in court immunity because she was a sex trafficking victim.

On a June night in 2018, Chrystul Kizer, 17 at the time, had a gun in her bag. And she used it to kill Randall Volar, a 34-year-old man, in his home in Kenosha a city near Milwaukee in the state of Wisconsin.

She had met him on a website known to facilitate sex trafficking, now shut down. In a Washington Post interview in 2019, Chrystul Kizer said she needed money for snacks and school.

For a year, Volar had been assaulting her and selling her as a prostitute, according to court documents.

That night, she pulled out her gun and shot him in the head. She then burned his house down and stole his car. She told detectives that she got a gun to protect herself and that she was tired he was touching her. She justified shooting him because the door was locked and was afraid she couldn't leave.

Despite having killed him, Kizer may be considered not guilty. A law in Wisconsin actually says sex trafficking victims of crimes related to being trafficked have immunity. The law passed in 2008 absolves sex trafficking victims of "any offense committed as a direct result" of being trafficked.

Can Kizer argue immunity in court because she was a sex-trafficking victim?

A judge from the Kenosha County first ruled that it would be absurd that the law be extended to cover homicide. But a state appellate court overturned the ruling, considering immunity applies to any offense that is a direct result of being trafficked. The state Department then appealed to the state Supreme Court.

It claims the homicide was premeditated and not a direct result of human trafficking. Volar was sitting on a chair when he was killed, which would dismiss the argument she escaped a sexual assault according to the assistant state attorney. The prosecutor also argues she told her boyfriend she intended to shoot Volar and texted a friend saying "I'm going to get a BMW" the day before the shooting. Defense argues she should be allowed to make her case at trial.

And the Supreme Court of Wisconsin now needs to decide whether Kizer, now 21, can argue that immunity for sex trafficking victims can be applied for killing someone. The high court will not decide whether Kizer is innocent or guilty. It is only tasked to answer whether she can argue at trial that the law protects her from criminal liability.

The decision won't be legally binding to other states with similar immunity laws for trafficking victims. But it could help define the scope of sex trafficking victims' immunity in dozens of states across the United States.

Nearly 40 U.S. states have passed laws over the last decade that provide sex trafficking victims some level of criminal immunity, according to Legal Action of Wisconsin, which provides legal assistance for low-income people.

The outcome of the hearing could change trial strategies of defendants and prosecutors. Moreover, it may change how victims respond to abuse.

Prosecutors charged her with first-degree intentional homicide, arson, car theft and illegal possession of a firearm. She would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted on the homicide count. Kizer spent two years in jail before she was released in June 2020 after community groups raised her $400,000 bail.

Anti-violence groups support Kizer, explaining trafficking victims feel trapped and may feel they have to take matters into their own hands. In a way, that she only defended herself from the abuse.

Hearings are scheduled for March 1.

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