Basketball

WNBA star Brittney Griner to appeal 9-year jail sentence for drug possession on Oct. 25

A Russian court on Monday set Oct. 25 as the date for American basketball star Brittney Griner's appeal against her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.

Player's lawyers say in similar cases defendants have usually received 5-year sentence

On Oct. 25, WNBA star Brittney Griner will appeal her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession in a Russian court. Her defence team presented written statements that Griner was prescribed cannabis to treat pain. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

A Russian court on Monday set Oct. 25 as the date for American basketball star Brittney Griner's appeal against her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession.

Griner, an eight-time all-star centre with the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medallist, was convicted Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.

The Moscow region court said it will hear her appeal.

Griner admitted she had the canisters in her luggage but testified she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defence team presented written statements she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

Her February arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner, recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, was returning to Russia, where she played during the U.S. league's off-season.

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years, and Griner's lawyers argued after the conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.

Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be "wrongfully detained" - a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.

U.S. reportedly offered prisoner swap

Reflecting the growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that Washington had made a "substantial proposal" to get Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken didn't elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported Washington has offered to exchange Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the "merchant of death."

The White House said it has not yet received a productive response from Russia to the offer.

Russian diplomats have refused to comment on the U.S. proposal and urged Washington to discuss the matter in confidential talks, avoiding public statements.

U.S. President Joe Biden met last month with Cherelle Griner, the wife of Brittney Griner, as well as the player's agent, Lindsay Colas. Biden also sat down separately with Elizabeth Whelan, Paul Whelan's sister.

The White House said after the meetings that the president stressed to the families his "continued commitment to working through all available avenues to bring Brittney and Paul home safely."

The Biden administration carried out a prisoner swap in April, with Moscow releasing Marine veteran Trevor Reed in exchange for the U.S. releasing a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted in a drug trafficking conspiracy.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now