Posted on August 4, 2022

Brittney Griner Found Guilty in Russian Court, Sentenced to Nine Years in Prison

Jeff Eisenberg, Yahoo, August 4, 2022

Inside her metal courtroom cage, a solemn, stone-faced Brittney Griner learned how long she’ll be locked away in Russian prison if the Biden administration can’t broker a deal to secure her release.

A Russian judge handed down a harsh 9-year sentence on Thursday, rejecting the WNBA star’s emotional apology and plea for leniency for the “honest mistake” of bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into the country last February.

Griner was found guilty of drug possession and drug smuggling with criminal intent. The judge fined her 1 million rubles, roughly $16,300 US dollars, in addition to sentencing Grine to just shy of the maximum 10 years that she was eligible to receive.

As the judge announced Griner’s verdict in Russian, a translator relayed what was said to the WNBA star. Griner displayed little emotion besides an occasional shake of her head or purse of her lips, but her supporters weren’t nearly so silent.

Standing outside the courthouse, Elizabeth Rood, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, called the ruling a “miscarriage of justice.”

President Biden echoed that soon afterward, describing Griner’s 9-year sentence as “unacceptable” and pledging to “work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue” to bring her home.

“I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden added.


The judge’s ruling comes nearly six months after she flew into a Moscow airport and Russian customs officials allegedly found .702 grams of cannabis oil in her luggage. That’s less than the weight of a pen cap or a stick of gum, yet prosecutors alleged it was enough to meet the “significant amount” threshold under Russian law and asked the judge to sentence Griner to 9 ½ years in prison.


At the same time as Griner’s trial has unfolded inside a cramped courtroom outside Moscow, the question of her fate has also been discussed at the highest levels of U.S-Russian diplomacy. Last Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to urge him to accept the U.S.’s “substantial proposal” to secure the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, another American whom the government considers wrongfully detained.

Blinken has declined to share details of the offer, but he has not denied reports that President Biden has signed off on trading a notorious Russian arms trafficker with high-level government and military intelligence connections. Viktor Bout is serving a 25-year sentence in an Illinois federal prison for conspiring to kill Americans and sell weapons to Colombian terrorists.


William Pomeranz, an expert on Russian law and politics, predicted that the Kremlin won’t be in any hurry to accept the Biden administration’s 2-for-1 offer for Bout. Whereas Biden is under increasing domestic pressure to free Griner, Vladimir Putin doesn’t face the same level of urgency to bring Bout home.

“The U.S. pretty much laid its cards on the table, and now it’s the Russians who are in the driver’s seat,” said Pomeranz, the acting director of the Kennan Institute. “They can now dictate whether this prisoner swap happens and how fast this moves.”