WNBA star Brittney Griner faces trial in Russia for drug possession

Griner, whose arrest came less than a week before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, plays for a Russia basketball team during the WNBA’s off-season.

The State Department said in May that Griner is “unjustly detained by the Russian government,” an official classification that means the Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, in conjunction with the ministry, may be more aggressive in his efforts to secure her. . release.

In a statement Friday, Elizabeth Rood, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Moscow, said the embassy was able to speak with Griner in court.

“She is doing as well as can be expected in these difficult circumstances,” said Rood.

She said the embassy is “very concerned with this matter and with the well-being of Ms. Griner, as so many Americans do, and as we do with all American prisoners of state abroad.”

“The Russian Federation has improperly detained Brittney Griner,” said Rood, adding that “the top-level US government is working hard to bring Brittney and all falsely detained US citizens home safely.”

At a news conference Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the arrest was “politically motivated” and claimed Griner was being held for carrying “prohibited drugs”.

“The facts show that the famous athlete was held with illicit drugs containing narcotics,” he said. “And there are indeed articles in Russian law that provide for punishment for such crimes. He said the outcome of Griner’s trial would be left to the courts.

After a hearing Monday, a foreign ministry spokesman said it “will continue to press for her release”.

But experts in Russian law say Griner’s best option to obtain her release would be through diplomatic channels rather than through the legal system. Marijuana is illegal in Russia for recreational and medical purposes, and less than 1% of all criminal cases in the country end in acquittal, according to Reuters.

Prison time in a penal colony is virtually guaranteed if Griner is convicted of large-scale drug trafficking, and she could be incarcerated for between five and 10 years, said William E. Butler, the author of “Russian Law and Legal Institutions” and a professor at Penn. State Dickinson Law

Under Russia’s penal code, a court can impose a sentence less than the minimum sentence, he said, but lawyers must present a convincing argument.

Many of the details about Griner’s trial are murky. Butler said she would likely face a trial in court, as opposed to a jury, and he would expect a verdict to come the same day the trial ends.

He said these kinds of trials might not take more than a day, but “since we don’t know anything about her side of the story, we can’t be sure.” Griner would have a chance to appeal if found guilty.

Thomas Firestone, a former Justice Department official who worked as a lawyer in Moscow, said he is aware of a recent case similar to Griner’s that took about two and a half months to conclude. An acquittal in Griner’s case, he added, would be “highly unlikely”.

Firestone believes the trial will be closely monitored by Kremlin officials. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and winner of the WNBA championship with the Mercury, is no ordinary American detainee, and former diplomats have suggested President Vladimir Putin might see her as a potential bargaining chip for a high-profile Russian citizen serving in the United States. Is being detained. States.

Experts say that among those Russia would like in a prison swap is Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer called the Merchant of Death, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2011 for conspiring to sell weapons to rebels in Colombia.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday in “Meet the Press NOW” that Putin is withholding Griner as part of a “strategy of essentially intimidation”.

But a Putin spokesperson disputed the State Department’s position that Griner is a Russian hostage, telling NBC News she is no different from “hundreds of hundreds of Russian citizens convicted of carrying hashish.”

Meanwhile, Griner’s supporters, including her wife and fellow WNBA players, continue to gather around her during basketball games and on social media using the hashtag #WeAreBG

Her wife, Cherelle Griner, said in an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton on Wednesday that she has received letters from her husband saying she is “holding on” but believes she is still “struggling. She is terrified there. She is alone there.” .”

Cherelle Griner said on Sharpton’s SiriusXM radio show, “Keepin’ It Real,” that she hasn’t spoken to her wife since Feb. 17. The pair were due to speak this month on the date of their fourth anniversary, but a logistical error with the US embassy reportedly failed to put their call through.

Cherelle Griner added that the lawsuit against her wife is already stacked against her.

“Nothing about this is justice,” she said.

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