The defense team for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced earlier this month to nine and a half years in prison for bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into Russia, confirmed on Monday that it had appealed the drug conviction, the New York Times has reported.
Maria Blagovolina, a partner at the law firm that has represented the two-time Olympic gold medalist, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that the appeal was filed, but the grounds for it were not immediately clear. She, however, noted that the punishment was excessive, adding that similar cases have seen defendants receive an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them given parole.
Griner, a Houston native who plays professional basketball for the Phoenix Mercury, was initially detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17 after the Russian Federal Customs Service claimed to have found vape cartridges containing the marijuana concentrate hashish oil in her luggage. During her testimony, Griner contended that she did not know how the cannabis oil for which she had a doctor's prescription ended up in her bag, explaining that she had packed in haste while under great stress.
However, the judge found that Griner had criminal intent and said she was guilty of smuggling and storing illegal drugs. In addition to the jail sentence, she received a one million rubles fine, roughly $16,500.
Over the past week, media outlets have reported that prisoner exchange negotiations have been ramping up between Washington and Moscow involving Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan sentenced to sixteen years in prison on espionage charges in 2020.
On Saturday, Russia officially acknowledged it was seeking convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving a twenty-five-year prison sentence and once earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death,” as part of any prisoner swap deal.
“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and U.S. citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, told state news agency Tass, per the Associated Press.
“These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals,” he continued.
Late last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that the United States presented a “substantial proposal” to Russia for Griner and Whelan, two Americans classified as “wrongfully detained” by the Biden administration.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.