Considers the applicability of a statutory defense for victims of sex trafficking in a case where a Wisconsin minor shot and killed her abuser/trafficker.
Full Case Title:
- Human Trafficking
- Racial Justice
- Authored Amicus Brief
LEGAL MOMENTUM IS CO-COUNSEL ON THIS AMICUS BRIEF WITH HARVARD LAW SCHOOL’S GENDER VIOLENCE PROGRAM WITH BOIES SCHILLER AS PRO BONO COUNSEL. THE PRO BONO WISCONSIN FIRM SPONSORING THE PRO HAC VICE MOTIONS AND THE BRIEF ITSELF IS FOLEY & LARDNER.
Background of the Case
Chrystul Kizer is a child sex trafficking victim who shot and killed her abuser and trafficker in self-defense. If convicted, Ms. Kizer faces life in prison.
Ms. Kizer met her abuser/trafficker at the age of 16 through Backpage.com, a website shut down in 2018 for its involvement in child sex trafficking. For the next year, Ms. Kizer’s abuser/trafficker sexually assaulted her and sold her to other abusers on multiple occasions through Backpage.com. The State had evidence that the deceased was trafficking around a dozen other underaged African-American girls, one possibly around 12 years old, as well as creating child sexual abuse images, yet he was never arrested. Even after months of obtaining extensive evidence of his child sex trafficking and abuse, as well as child sexual abuse images from his computer the prosecutor’s office did not charge or arrest him. In June 2018, Ms. Kizer allegedly shot and killed her abuser/trafficker when he attacked her. She was subsequently arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Summary of the Brief
At issue in this case is whether Ms. Kizer is entitled to assert an affirmative defense under Wisconsin Statute § 939.46(1m) which allows trafficking victims to offer evidence that their offense was committed as a direct result of their victimization, which could negate the legal consequences of their offense. The trial judge in Ms. Kizer’s case denied her right to the affirmative defense under the narrow viewpoint that the statute was never meant to be applied in homicide or cases of violent crimes. In direct contravention of the intent of Wisconsin legislators, the judge ruled that giving a broad interpretation of this statute would yield “absurd” results. Ms. Kizer appealed this ruling to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's ruling. The District Attorneys office appealed this decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The brief addresses the limited question before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on the applicability of a statutory defense for victims of sex trafficking. The State is claiming that it would be illogical to apply the defense to all crimes, but the statute itself has no limitation.
You can read the 2020 Brief to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals here.
Our Role in the Case
In our brief, Legal Momentum and fellow amici argue that Ms. Kizer is precisely the type of person the Wisconsin Legislature intended to protect when it enacted statute §939.46(1m). Given the horrific abuse Ms. Kizer suffered, if she cannot obtain relief through Wisconsin Statute §939.46(1m), we fear no victim will realize the intended benefit of the Wisconsin provision. In addition, our brief provides the appellate court with expert insight into the unique trauma of sex trafficking and its impact on victims’ cognitive functioning, especially child victims. We believe that in-depth knowledge of the unique circumstances of child victims is extremely relevant to realizing the intent of the Wisconsin legislature and understanding the application of the affirmative defense. We must ensure the correct application of laws meant to protect child victims of sexual abuse and trafficking, rather than allow the criminal justice system to further prosecute these victims.
Legal Momentum is co-counsel on this amicus brief with Harvard Law School’s Gender Violence Program, headed by Professor Diane Rosenfeld, with Boies Schiller as pro bono counsel. The pro bono Wisconsin firm sponsoring the pro hac vice motions and the brief itself is Foley & Lardner.