Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russia for drug possession and smuggling

The WNBA star has an appeal, but a prisoner swap seems like her best shot at freedom now

A Moscow court on Thursday (4 August) sentenced WNBA star Brittney Griner to 9½ years in prison. Griner pleaded guilty last month and hoped for leniency in sentencing on charges that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

“I understand everything that is being said against me, the charges that are being leveled against me, and that is why I have pleaded guilty,” Griner told the judge through an interpreter. “I had no intention of breaking any Russian laws,” she added.

The US Olympian was distraught as she apologized to the court and insisted she made “an honest mistake” packing in a hurry. ESPN reports that Griner “reacted to the verdict with little emotion and listened to the verdict with a blank look on her face.”

Griner also apologized to her teammates, fans, and the entire city of Yekaterinburg, where she was traveling to play over the summer.

“I never wanted to hurt anyone. I never wanted to endanger the Russian people,” she said. “I made an honest mistake and I hope in your judgment it doesn’t end my life here.”

How we got here

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremtyevo Airport reportedly found cannabis oil cartridges in Griner’s luggage on February 17. She traveled to the country to play for a Russian professional league, which she has participated in since 2014 during the WNBA offseason.

Griner’s trial has made political waves thanks to tensions between Russia and the US following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, exactly a week after Griner’s arrest.

Acknowledging the politics at play in her case, Griner said, “I know everyone keeps talking about ‘political pawns’ and ‘politics,’ but I hope that’s a long way from this courtroom.”

Judge It took Anna Sotnikova just hours to deliberate on the verdict after hearing the evidence and Griner’s final plea for clemency. Griner was also ordered to pay a 1 million ruble ($16,590) fine for the violation.

President Biden called the verdict “unacceptable,” but his next steps to ensure Griner’s release are still unclear.

Griner has the right to appeal, but experts say a prisoner trade is now the most likely outcome. Russian officials have said Russian law bars the country from considering a deal until after the conviction.

How to help cannabis prisoners

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