Brittney Griner, Lawyers Prepare for Tuesday Appeal Hearing in Russia

by Sean Griffin
(Photo by EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

WNBA star Brittney Griner has lived in a Russian jail since February of this year after being locked up by Russian authorities. Officials in Russia discovered cannabis oil in her luggage at the airport. Reportedly, they found less than a gram of hash oil cartridges. Her trial began on July 1st, and she pled guilty to the charges. She received nine years at her sentencing on August 4th. She also paid a fine of $16,500.

One of her attorneys recently offered to bring her a basketball so she could play on the hoop in the facility. However, Griner told them not to bring one.

“She said, ‘Maybe if I’m here longer, but not now,'” one of her lawyers, Maria Blagovolina, said from Moscow on Wednesday.

Currently, Griner focuses on one thing: her upcoming appeal hearing Tuesday in Moscow regional court. Experts say there remains virtually zero chance the court will overturn her conviction.

However, some do think the three-judge panel could slightly reduce her nine-year sentence for smuggling cannabis oil into the country.

Brittney Griner turned 32 on Tuesday, where she spent her birthday behind bars while many on social media called for her release.

Blagovolina said the appeal will be a “straightforward” affair. She expects one hearing that will last a couple of hours, with a ruling handed down right at its conclusion. Griner’s lawyers may argue that the lower court erred in its verdict or sentence. However, they can’t introduce new arguments or evidence. Griner will participate via videoconference from her jail. She will have a chance to address the judges at the end of the hearing.

Sources Speculate Russia Won’t Act on Prisoner Swap Until After U.S. Midterms

Blagovolina and her co-counsel visited Griner on Tuesday. She showed her numerous birthday cards and letters, along with a photo of her wife, Cherelle, meeting with President Joe Biden last month.

Regardless of next week’s ruling, Brittney Griner’s fate will remain in the hands of Russian officials. American authorities have said they haven’t received what they a “legitimate response” to their offer to swap at least one Russian prisoner for Griner.

Sources close to Griner believe that Russia won’t likely act until after the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 8. They feel as though a swap could boost Biden’s standing politically.

Griner’s family and American officials have been concerned that she’ll be sent to the prison camp she was sentenced to. There, conditions are harsher and she would be far more vulnerable to abuse from inmates and staff. However, Blagovolina said even if the appeals court upholds the verdict, Griner probably won’t be moved soon.

“It’s a complicated process [that] can take anywhere from three weeks to three months,” she said.

Griner will be allowed to request a location, most likely somewhere close to Moscow. That’s where her lawyers are.

However, as U.S. officials have stated repeatedly, Russia can do whatever it likes with Brittney Griner and America can’t do much about it.