On Thursday, August 4, a Russian court ruled that WNBA star Brittney Griner was guilty of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to 9 years in prison.
The two-time Olympic medalist, who also plays for the Phoenix Mercury, has been detained in other countries since her arrest more than five months ago at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, where customs officials said they discovered cannabis oil vape canisters in her luggage. She was accused of knowingly smuggling drugs into the country, where marijuana use for both medicinal and recreational purposes is illegal.
Griner pleaded guilty to possessing the substance in July, but she has maintained that she did not intend to break the law, telling authorities that she put the cannisters in her suitcase by mistake as she rushed to pack for her return to Russia, where she plays for the UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team during the WNBA’s offseason.
Griner’s attorney (layer), Maria Blagovolin, also stated in court that Griner was prescribed medical cannabis two years ago to treat severe chronic pain and presented a doctor’s note as proof. Blagovolin also provided a series of tests the American athlete received as part of an anti-doping check last month, none of which revealed the presence of any banned substances in her system.
Judge Anna Sotnikova told a court in the town of Khimki, just outside Moscow, that the court “found the defendant guilty” of smuggling and possessing “a significant amount of narcotics.” In addition, the player was fined one million rubles ($16,300).
US President Joe Biden slammed the verdict, calling it “unacceptable” and renewing calls for the player’s release.
“We will continue to use every available avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” he said, referring to another American detained in Russia on espionage charges.
Sotnikova stated on Thursday that Griner committed the crime “on purpose.” However, Griner testified during the trial that it was an error.
Griner’s family, teammates, and supporters have been pleading with the US government to throw its full weight behind the case in order to secure her release.
Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17, a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, when she entered the country with cannabis oil-laced vape canisters.
“I never intended to hurt anyone, I never intended to endanger the Russian people, and I never intended to violate Russian law,” Griner said through a translator as he stood in the metal cage reserved for defendants in Russian courtrooms. She expressed regret to her family, teammates, and spouse.
Griner’s attorneys said they intend to appeal the verdict, accusing the court of ignoring the defense’s evidence.
“Taking into account the amount of substance – not to mention the shortcomings of the expertise – and the plea, the verdict is completely unreasonable,” her defense team said in a statement.