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WNBA Star Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty for Drug Charges Before the Russian Court

A lot has happened since Olympic gold-medalist Birtney Griner wrote an open letter to president Joe Biden, seeking help to free her from Russian jail. The U.S. basketball star has been held in Russia since February on accusations of drug smuggling. Now, she has pleaded guilty to drug charges in a Russian court but has denied deliberately breaking the law.

Didn’t Break The Law…

WNBA star Britney Griner, who was being called a political pawn by several dignitaries in the United States, has pleaded guilty to drug charges during her appearance in a Russian court. However, the Olympic gold medalist has denied any intention to break the law in a case that has further inflamed tensions between Moscow and Washington.

“I was in a rush packing and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag,” she told the Russian court in Khimki. “I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Brittney Griner told the court in English. In handcuffs and wearing a red T-shirt and trousers, she said she would like to give her testimony later and needed time to prepare. The trial was then adjourned for a week.

A source closer to Griner claimed that the decision to plead guilty was made by Griner alone, a source close to her said. It came out that in recent weeks, Griner, her family, lawyers and experts discussed this decision extensively. Given the 99% reported conviction rate in Russian criminal cases, Griner was urged to weigh all the factors, including a plea that could ultimately result in a shorter sentence.

The move comes after the two-time Olympic gold medalist wrote an open letter to president Joe Biden on July 4, crying for help. She wrote: “…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.”

Now, the 31-year-old WNBA star has pleaded guilty to charges that could result in 10 years of a prison sentence. Griner’s plea came on the second day of her trial, at which a prosecutor accused her of smuggling less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.
Prosecutors argue that Griner intended to import the drugs into Russia’s territory and put the prohibited substances into a backpack and a suitcase. On the other hand, Griner just pleaded that she did not intend to do so and it accidentally came inside the bag.
The  US basketball star Brittney Griner has been held in Russia since February on accusations of drug smuggling. Previously, Russia had extended her detention in June and it was stated that she would remain in Russian custody through July 2. However, things have taken a bitter turn after her confession comes in.

President Joe Biden Calls Griner’s Wife

On Wednesday, the White House announced President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had spoken by phone with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner. Cherelle Griner was “grateful” for the call from Biden and Harris, she said in a statement Wednesday (July 6):
“While I will remain concerned and outspoken until she is back home, I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife’s letter and took the time to respond,” she said. “I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.”
Previously, State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated: “Our position for some time on this has been very clear: Brittney Griner should not be detained. She should not be detained for a single day longer.” Brittney Griner’s detention has been extended repeatedly. But again, a lot changes after her plea. So yea, people believe that she may be used as a political pawn.
If you don’t know, Cannabis oil is illegal in Russia, but her high-profile arrest at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow came a week before Russia invaded Ukraine. There were theories that there can be a prison swap between Russia and the United States but there is nothing as such in the present to back the same.
Russia has denied that the player’s detention is connected to the icy diplomatic relations with the US, but John Garamendi, a member of the US Congress, warned last month that the war could exacerbate the issue, saying: “We don’t want Ms Griner to become a pawn in the political battle that’s being waged throughout the world right now.”
There has been speculation that even if Brittney Griner is given a jail term, Russia may be prepared to exchange her or Paul Whelan for a high-profile Russian prisoner in a US jail, such as arms dealer Viktor Bout. Dubbed “Merchant of Death”, Bout was jailed for 25 years after he was caught in a US sting operation in Thailand.

Some have speculated Griner could be released and returned to the US in a prisoner swap, as was Trevor Reed, an American veteran who was detained in Russia for three years before being released in April. However, there is no indication that such a swap is imminent in Griner’s case. 

In Reed’s case, he had to sign a document saying he was guilty — something he had resisted for almost the entirety of his detention — just days before he was let out, the official said. However, his family spokesperson Jonathan Franks stated: “It is part of the show and the document has no legal force or effect in the US. It is effectively meaningless.”

As for Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner has, time and again, requested the government for Griner’s release stating that she is innocent. Cherelle earlier told a rally organised by her wife’s Phoenix Mercury team: “I’m frustrated that 140 days have passed since my wife has been able to speak to me, to our family and to our friends. I’m frustrated that my wife is not going to get justice.”

However, Griner’s plea in the court puts a lot in jeopardy – from US Government’s claim about her “wrongful detention” to Griner’s open letter that invited a lot of sympathies. Even though her crime remains petty, the Russians cannot be trusted. A lot of questions remain unanswered. Griner’s next hearing has been set for July 14. This story is developing…

Mallika
I am Mallika Singh, a lawyer and writer by profession. Writing gives me a sense of freedom and independence. I am a keen observer and an ardent reader. When not at work, you can find me at the stable. Horse riding is another passion that keeps me going.
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