What does a guilty plea in Russia mean for Brittney Griner?

WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has plead guilty to drug charges that could imprison her for up to 10 years. Here’s what that means for Griner and her cause. 

After 140 days of detainment in a Russian prison, Brittney Griner plead guilty to smuggling and drug possession charges.

The AP offered more insight into how Griner packed vape cartridges in her luggage yet had “no intention of committing a crime.”

Through using an interpreter, Russian news reports quoted Griner from her court hearing as saying that she had “acted unintentionally because she was packing in haste.”

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said in court, according to Russian state media, per VICE.

For those unfamiliar with her case, Griner was detained in February at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow when “vape canisters with cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage,” per AP. If Griner is convicted of large-scale transportation of drugs, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

What does a guilty plea mean for Brittney Griner?

Although a guilty plea may sound condemning for Griner, it is what has been expected by legal experts familiar with international detainment cases such as this. Griner’s attorney, Alexander Boykov, says they’re “hoping she’ll will receive a lenient sentence as a result of her plea,” per VICE.

“Traditionally, the best defense is to admit your guilt and hope you get a lesser sentence,” William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington and an expert on Russian law, recently told ESPN. “There’s not a lot of examples of people raising strong defenses and getting acquitted.”

Pomeranz offers a great deal of context on Griner’s situation, including the fact that 99 percent of Russian criminal cases end in a conviction. There has been no expectation that Griner would be acquitted of her charges in Russian court, which is why domestic efforts have been focused on pressuring the U.S. government to negotiate for her release.

When will Russian courts reach a verdict on Brittney Griner?

According to Forbes, a ruling in the case is not expected for “at least two months,” according to Griner’s Russian lawyers, and it “could potentially take even longer.”

Griner’s guilty plea will shape the way her case is argued and what her lawyers attempt to get, but from various reports, it seems that the primary expectation of the Russian government is that they will pursue a prisoner swap, most likely for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.”

The campaign to “Bring BG Home” to the United States

Griner’s path back to the United States through the Russian court system looks bleak at the moment, but this hasn’t slowed the campaign to “Bring BG Home.”

Griner’s cause is being championed by friends, family, Phoenix Mercury teammates, and the WNBA and NBA leagues. NBA stars from Steph Curry to Jaylen Brown has brought attentiont o what Griner is going through, and the Mercury/Suns organization has been adamant about pushing for her return. The night before her guilty plea was announced, the Mercury hosted a public rally to amplify her cause.

Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner, addressed the crowd as she fought back tears.

“One hundred thirty-nine days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to me, to our family and our friends. I’m frustrated my wife is not going to get justice. I know you all are frustrated, too. That’s why you’re here.”

On July 4, Griner addressed a letter to President Joe Biden, describing her fear that she might be imprisoned in Russia “forever.”

″As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore.”

In response, the White House issued a statement that President Biden is sending a letter to Griner in response, which he read to Cherelle over the phone.

As Griner’s Russian imprisonment continues, advocates continue to pressure the U.S. government to negotiate her release as soon as possible. Elizabeth Rood, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, spoke with Griner in the courtroom as she read President Biden’s letter.

“I would like again to emphasize the commitment of the U.S. government at the very highest level to bring home safely Ms. Griner and all U.S. citizens wrongfully detained as well as the commitment of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to care for and protect the interests of all U.S. citizens detained or imprisoned in Russia,” Rood told reporters.


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