Brittney Griner’s appeal for a reduced prison sentence was rejected by a Russian Court. Griner is facing nine years of prison for illegally bringing drugs into the Russian Federation. Despite her “celebrity status,” the courts are standing by their sentence of nine years and have rejected pleas for a more lenient sentence or an acquittal. It’s expected that Griner will be moved to a prison penal colony in the foreseeable future.
Snejana Farberov; Occtober 25, 2022
A Russian court on Tuesday rejected Brittney Griner’s appeal after the jailed WNBA star begged for forgiveness for her “mistake” — upholding her nine-year sentence for possessing and smuggling vape cartridges containing cannabis oil.
Griner and her lawyers had asked for acquittal or at least a more lenient sentence, which they said was disproportionate to the offense and at odds with Russian judicial practice.
After reviewing the case for just 30 minutes, the presiding judge ruled the verdict was upheld “without changes” except for the counting of time served in pre-trial detention as part of the sentence. One day in pre-trial detention will be counted as 1.5 days in prison, so the 32-year-old Griner will have to serve around eight years in prison.
Griner is now expected to be moved to a penal colony.
The US chargee d’affaires in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, who attended the hearing, called the sentence “excessive and disproportionate.”
The state prosecutor said Griner’s Aug. 4 sentence of nine years in a penal colony was “fair,” but Alexander Boykov, one of her lawyers, told the court: “No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law.”
He listed a series of what he said were procedural flaws in Griner’s conviction and requested an acquittal, but asked that “if the court wants to punish her, (it should) give her a new, ‘fair’ verdict and mitigate the punishment.”
“The severity and cruelty of the sentence applied to Griner shocks people around the world,” he said.
Griner’s legal team said in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.
Permitted to make a final statement to the court via video link from her detention center in the town of Novoye Grishino, just outside Moscow, Griner, dressed in a checkered red-and-black lumberjack shirt, begged for mercy.
“I was barely over the significant amount (of cannabis oil) … People with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given,” she said.
Griner apologized for what she said was an honest “mistake,” as she had at her first trial, saying, “I did not intend to do this,” and asking the court to take into account the fact that she had pleaded guilty.
The basketball star also told the court about the emotional toll she said her eight-month detention and two trials have taken on her.
“I really hope that the court will adjust this sentence because it has been very, very stressful, and very traumatic … to my psyche and being away from my family and not being able to communicate,” she said.
Griner has said she used prescribed medical cannabis to relieve the pain from a series of sports injuries. Both recreational and medicinal uses are prohibited in Russia.
When asked if Griner had understood the verdict upholding her sentence, she simply replied “Yes” before being led away by guards.
The Biden administration has been under growing pressure to do more to bring Griner home following her arrest at Moscow’s main airport in February, just days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
In July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.
Blinken didn’t elaborate, but it has been widely reported that Washington has offered to swap Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer dubbed the “merchant of death” who is serving a 25-year sentence in the US.
The White House said it has not yet received a productive response from Russia to the offer.
In response to Tuesday’s verdict, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US will continue to engage with Russia to bring Griner home.
“We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today,” Sullivan said in a statement.
The Biden administration “has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan,” Sullivan added.
Griner’s lawyers said in a statement: “Brittney’s biggest fear is that she is not exchanged and will have to serve the whole sentence in Russia. She had hopes for today as each month, each day away from her family and friends matters to her.”
They said it would be some time before Griner was moved to a prison colony, and that they had not yet decided whether to try to launch another appeal.
Photo: AP Photo