You are here
Home > News > Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty to Pot Charges in Russia

Brittney Griner Pleads Guilty to Pot Charges in Russia

Brittney Griner pleaded guilty in Russia to cannabis charges on Thursday. This comes nearly five months after Griner, a WNBA player and Olympic gold medalist was taken into custody at an airport close to Moscow. Griner was wrongfully detained and is now facing a possible sentence of up 10 years prison.

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor,” Griner said in English, which was then translated into Russian for the court. “But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”

“I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she added, according to a report from Reuters.

Griner, the star center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was arrested outside Moscow in February. After Russia attacked Ukraine unprovokedly in March, Russian authorities reported that Griner was arrested as he went through customs at an airport near Moscow.

Her arrest has prompted an international outcry from celebrities, politicians, family, and other supporters, many of whom believe that Griner’s detention and trial are being used by Russia as political leverage as the conflict in Ukraine continues. Griner’s supporters hope that her guilty plea coupled with her wrongfully detained status in the eyes of the U.S. government will make her eligible for a prisoner swap between Russia and the U.S.

A Gram or Less of Weed Arrest

Griner’s trial on charges of importing vape cartridges with less than a gram of cannabis oil began in a courtroom near Moscow on Friday. The Russian state news agency TASS reported that Griner placed the vape cartridges containing 0.7 gram of cannabis oil into a backpack.

Griner’s attorneys, Alexander Boykov and Maria Blagovolina, said that they expect the trial to conclude some time in August. Griner could face a maximum of 10 years imprisonment under Russian law. Her legal team however hopes her guilty plea will bring her leniency. Boykov pointed out that Griner’s samples were not tested for drugs and the results of her laboratory analyses did not support this.

“She was clean, and she was tested,” the attorney said.

In a statement released to the media, Griner’s legal team said that it was the WNBA star’s decision to plead guilty to the charges she faced, adding that the move “sets an example of being brave.”

“She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people,” the statement reads. “Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence.”

“We, as her defense, explained to her the possible consequences,” Blagovolina told reporters. “Brittney stressed that she committed the crime out of carelessness, getting ready to board a plane to Russia in a hurry, not intending to break Russian law. We certainly hope this circumstance, in combination with the defence evidence, will be taken into account when passing the sentence, and it will be mild.”

Biden responds to Griner

The White House announced Wednesday that Joe Biden received from Griner, a handwritten note, begging him to release Griner from Russian prison. The administration also noted that Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had spoken with Griner’s wife Cherrelle Griner on the telephone and that the president had written a response to Griner’s letter. Cherrelle Griner said after the call that she was “grateful” to receive the phone call from Biden.

“While I will remain concerned and outspoken until (Brittney Griner) 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.”

After Thursday’s hearing, Elizabeth Rood, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, told reporters that she had spoken with Griner in the courtroom and shared the letter of response from Biden.

“She’s eating well, she’s able to read books and under the circumstances she’s doing well,” Rood said of Griner. “I would like again to emphasize the commitment of the U.S. government at the very highest level to bring home safely Ms. Griner and all U.S. citizens wrongfully detained as well as the commitment of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to care for and protect the interests of all U.S. citizens detained or imprisoned in Russia.”

Griner’s next hearing in the trial is scheduled for July 14.