Russian Court Doesn't Give Griner a Break

WNBA star's appeal is rejected
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 25, 2022 12:00 AM CDT
Updated Oct 25, 2022 7:59 AM CDT
How Brittney Griner Is Feeling as Her Appeal Looms
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted from a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, on Aug. 4, 2022.   (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Update: To nobody's surprise, a Russian court rejected the appeal of WNBA star Brittney Griner on Tuesday. The decision means her nine-year sentence for drug possession stands, though it will be "slightly decreased" based on her time already spent in custody, reports CNN. The upshot of Tuesday's decision is that Griner will likely remain in prison unless the US manages to engineer a prisoner swap. Our story from earlier Tuesday follows:

Brittney Griner's appeal of her drug conviction will be heard Tuesday in Russia, and her lawyers are giving the media an idea of the mental state of the WNBA star and two-time Olympian as the hearing looms. A statement cited by USA Today says Griner is "very nervous," while NBC News quotes one of her attorneys as saying Griner is feeling "quite pessimistic." The best she's currently hoping for, her legal team says, is a reduction of the nine-year sentence she was hit with in August, and not a complete overruling of the verdict. "Brittney does not expect any miracles to happen," the team says in a statement.

The team says appeals in Russia are typically handled quickly, and that barring any technical issues, they expect a ruling Tuesday, People reports. Griner, who just turned 32, will appear via videoconference from her pre-trial detention facility. Her lawyers stress that she is "very mentally strong and has a champion's character," but that "she of course has her highs and lows as she is under an increasing amount of stress and has been separated from her loved ones for over eight months." They say that during the hearing, they will raise issues including "procedural flaws during the detainment and the investigation" as well as what they see as an unreasonable sentence; a typical sentence for an offense like this is "never more than six years" and sometimes "even less, much less," one attorney says.

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They run down three potential outcomes of the hearing: the original sentence is upheld (in this case, it's not clear when Griner would be transferred to a penal colony, a journey that can take more than a month, with unreliable communication); the verdict is overruled entirely and sent back to the lower court that originally sentenced Griner; or the sentence is reduced to a shorter length of time. The US has proposed a prisoner swap for Griner and Paul Whelan, another American being held in Russia, two sources say. (More Brittney Griner stories.)

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