Brittney Griner’s legal team announced on Monday that an appeal has been filed over her nine-year prison sentence on the charge of drug smuggling. The WNBA star was traveling to Yekaterinburg, in western Russia, to play for a local team during the off-season.
In February, Griner was in a Moscow airport in route to Yekaterinburg and arrested for carrying vape cartridges containing cannabis oil found during a search of her bags. She pleaded guilty but begged the court for leniency. She could have been sentenced up to ten years in prison. Griner’s story all along has been that she packed the cartridges by mistake. She also has used the excuse that her doctor in the United States prescribed medical marijuana for her to help with pain from injuries sustained in her basketball career. But, as could have been predicted, the Russian court found her guilty this month.
Griner finds herself in the middle of international tensions between the United States and Russia that have magnified since Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine. The State Department moved her case under the supervision of its special presidential envoy for hostage affairs when her trial began in July. The State Department designated her as “wrongfully detained.” Then there was the unusual move of publicly speaking about a deal being hammered out with the Russians, in the form of a prisoner swap, for Brittney’s release, along with the release of Paul Whelan. For whatever reason, Secretary of State Tony Blinken made the information public. With the inept Biden administration, it’s never really clear if such decisions are intentional or done by mistake.
How does a basketball player and a former Marine swapped for a convicted arms dealer and possibly a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering a Chechen dissenter. It’s a horribly lopsided deal but that is where we are, apparently. At first, the Russians were stalling and used the excuse of waiting for Griner’s verdict was delivered. Then they complained about potential public pressure when Blinken made the negotiations public.
Over the weekend, however, Russian officials confirmed that negotiations were underway and acknowledged that Moscow was indeed seeking an exchange for Bout.
“The discussion of the very sensitive topic of the exchange of imprisoned citizens of Russia and the United States is taking place within the channels determined by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, a high-profile Russian diplomat, told state news agency TASS on Saturday.
“The personalities mentioned above are indeed being considered,” he said referring to the reports about Griner, Whelan and Bout.
“The Russian side has been seeking the release of Viktor Bout for a long time,” Darchiev noted.
So, Brittney’s been tried and convicted. Now her lawyers have filed an appeal. Her lawyers say the sentence is excessive.
Lawyer Maria Blagovolina was quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying the appeal was filed, as was expected, but the grounds for it weren’t immediately clear.
The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years, and Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after the conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.
Now we wait to see if Griner is released in a prisoner swap or not.