Russian court upholds Brittney Griner’s drug trafficking conviction


[Breaking news update at 8:40 a.m. ET]

A judge in Russia left the verdict for American basketball star Brittney Griner in place, only slightly reducing her nine-year prison sentence.

[Previous story, published at 8:29 a.m. ET]

Brittney Griner’s lawyers are appeal his verdict in a Russian court On Tuesday, nearly three months after the American basketball star was convicted of drug trafficking in the country and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Griner’s appeal is considered by the Moscow Regional Court, with an outcome expected on Tuesday after his lawyers argued the verdict was unjust and unjustified under Russian law. They urged the court to acquit him, calling his sentence disproportionate and the court’s previous ruling was wrong to say Griner had criminal intent.

“No lawyer can honestly say that this verdict is in line with Russian judicial practice,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said.

Griner, 32, attended the hearing via video link from his detention center – Correctional Colony No. 1 in Novoye Grishino, north of Moscow – speaking briefly to confirm his name, according to his legal team. It was unclear whether she would make any further statements at the hearing, which started two hours later than scheduled at the request of her lawyers, who did not give a reason for the brief postponement.

The court hearing the appeal can choose to leave Griner’s verdict in place, overturn it and send it back to the lower court, or reduce Griner’s prison sentence, according to lawyers, Boykov of the Moscow Law Center and Maria Blagovolina, partner of Rybalkin. , Law Firm Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners.

If the decision of the Khimki city court is upheld, “the legal proceedings will be practically over,” Boykov said. In the meantime, Griner, a two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist, fears she may have to serve out the rest of her sentence in Russia if her appeal is denied and the United States and Russia fail to reach an agreement for a prisoner exchange. he said.

The US State Department has argued that Griner was wrongfully detained, and her case has raised concerns that she could be used as a political pawn in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The Biden administration recently contacted Russia in an attempt to secure the release of Griner and imprisoned American Paul Whelan, a senior administration official told CNN Last week.

Griner was first taken into custody at a Moscow airport on February 17 – days before the start of Russia invasion of ukraine — when authorities accused her of trying to smuggle less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner plays in Russia during the WNBA offseason.

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The Phoenix Mercury All-Star Center pleaded guilty on drug charges, telling the court during her trial that vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were in her luggage because she had packed her bags in a hurry.

In court on Tuesday, Blagovolina questioned the Russian examination of Griner’s alleged drug use, calling the results of that examination “dubious and unconfirmed.” “The continued use of narcotics is incompatible with a career as a professional athlete,” she added.

The two lawyers have previously indicated that they believe Griner’s nine-year sentence was extreme, with Blagovolina calling it “very severe for this type of crime and this amount of this substance”.

Before the hearing, Blagovolina and Boykov called Griner a “strong person” with a “championship character” who was nevertheless “severely stressed from being separated from her loved ones for more than eight months”.

“She is very nervous waiting for the appeal hearing,” they added in a written statement to CNN. “Brittney doesn’t expect miracles to happen but hopes the appeals court will hear the defense’s arguments and reduce the term.”

As the Griner affair unfolds, US officials have separately offered a potential prisoner swap with Russia, offering to swap Viktor Bout, convicted Russian arms dealer for Griner and Whelan, a US citizen detained by Russia for alleged espionage since 2018. Whelan, who has always denied the charges, was found guilty and sentenced in June 2020 to 16 years in prison.

Despite ‘pretty persistent’ pace of talks between US and Russia to secure Americans’ release, official says Biden administration has yet to receive a serious counter-offer from Russia .

“They are not insensitive. I would say they keep responding with something they know is not feasible or available,” the official said of the Russian response.

Former Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico – whose namesake center works on behalf of families of hostages and detainees, and who recently visited Russia to discuss the possible release of Griner and Whelan – recently says he was “cautiously optimistic” the two Americans could be released.

Richardson, who also served as US ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, said he was working with both of their families and coordinating with the White House to work for their release. The former governor was instrumental in the release of Trevor Reed, an American veteran detained in Russia for three years before his release in April.

Meanwhile, Griner’s wife Cherelle and their supporters continued to point out her case and keep up the support and pressure to ensure she is brought home, by launching a #WeAreBG campaign on social media. After months of pressure, Cherelle Griner met with Biden last monthtelling CNN that the reunion illustrated the administration’s commitment to bringing his wife home.

“It wasn’t a meeting where the president told me the news I want to hear,” Cherelle Griner said. “It wasn’t that, but it was one of those still crucial meetings where…it gave me confidence in what he’s doing right now.”

As for Grier, she turned 32 last week, celebrating his birthday in a cell on the outskirts of Moscow, his lawyers told CNN. They spent a few hours with her in an effort to “cheer her up” as much as they could, relaying birthday messages from around the world.

“Thank you all for fighting so hard to get me home,” Griner said in a post shared by his attorneys. “All the support and love is definitely helping me.”

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