Brittney Griner: Final arguments expected in WNBA star’s drug trafficking trial in Russia

The hearing at the Khimki city courthouse comes six months after Griner, 31, was arrested at a Moscow airport and charged by Russian prosecutors with attempting to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in his luggage. She faces up to 10 years in prison.
The U.S. two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist, who also plays for a Russian team during the WNBA offseason, pleaded guilty to drug charges last month in what her lawyers say is an attempt to take responsibility and receive leniency if she is ultimately found guilty and sentenced.
“Given the nature of his case, the insignificant amount of (Griner’s) substance and personality, and the history of positive contributions to world and Russian sport, the defense hopes the plea will be considered by the court. as a mitigating circumstance and that there will be no severe penalty” his legal team said last month.

The defense also attempted to undermine the prosecution case. On Tuesday, at the seventh hearing in his case, a defense expert testified that the examination of the substance in Griner’s vaping cartridges did not comply with Russian law.

Examination of substance in Brittney Griner's vape cartridges violated Russian law, defense expert says

“The examination does not comply with the law in terms of the completeness of the study and does not meet the standards of the Code of Criminal Procedure,” forensic chemist Dmitry Gladyshev said during the session of about two days. hours.

Maria Blagovolina, a partner at law firm Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin & Partners and a member of Griner’s defense team, told CNN that experts on her team identified “a few flaws” in the machines used to measure the substance.

At trial, Griner testified that she had a medical prescription for medical cannabis and had no intention of smuggling the drug into Russia. After her detention in February, she was tested for drugs and was clean, her lawyers previously said.

The US State Department maintains that Griner is being wrongfully detained, and her supporters have called for her release and for the United States to take further action to try to free her from the country, possibly as a part of a proposed prisoner exchange.

“She’s still focused and she’s still nervous. And she still knows the end is near, and of course she heard the news, so she hopes that one day she can come home, and we hope too.” , Blagovolina said on Tuesday. She added that the verdict in the case will come “very soon”, potentially on Thursday.

How was the trial

In court on Tuesday, Griner sat inside the defendant’s cage in the courtroom. US Embassy Moscow Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood attended the hearing and then said the United States would “continue to support Ms. Griner through every step of this process and for as long as it will take to bring her back to the United States”. without issue.”

Griner’s lawyers have already presented some arguments claiming that the basketball player’s detention was not handled properly after she was arrested on February 17 by staff at Sheremetyevo International Airport.

His detention, search and arrest were “inappropriate”, said Alexander Boykov, one of his lawyers, last week, noting that more details would be revealed during oral arguments.

After being arrested at the airport, Griner was asked to sign documents that she did not understand, she testified. At first, she says, she used Google Translate on her phone, but was later moved to another room where her phone was taken and made to sign more documents.

No attorney was present, Griner testified, and his rights were not explained to him. These rights would include access to a lawyer once detained and the right to know what she was suspected of. According to Russian law, she should have been informed of her rights within three hours of her arrest.

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In her testimony, Griner “explained to the court that she knows and respects Russian laws and never intended to break them,” Blagovolina said after last week’s hearing.

“We continue to insist that, indiscreetly, in a hurry, she packed her suitcase and did not pay attention to the fact that substances authorized for use in the United States ended up in this suitcase and arrived in the Russian Federation,” Boykov, of the Moscow Law Center, said.

The trial took place against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the country’s disputes with the United States and Europe.

Last week, CNN reported that President Joe Biden’s administration proposed a prisoner exchange with Russiaoffering to free a convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, in exchange for Griner and another American detainee, Paul Whelan. Russian officials countered the American offermultiple sources familiar with the talks said, but U.S. officials did not accept the request as a legitimate counter-offer.

The Kremlin also warned on Tuesday that US “megaphone diplomacy” will not help negotiations for a prisoner swap involving Griner. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believed the talks should be “low-key”.

Griner’s family, supporters and WNBA teammates have continued to express messages of solidarity and hope as they await the conclusion of the trial. His WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, is scheduled to face the Connecticut Sun Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET.

Ahead of the trial last week, the WNBA players union tweeted“Dear BG…It’s early in Moscow. Our day is ending and yours is just beginning. Not a day, not an hour goes by that you are not in our minds and in our hearts.”

CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Travis Caldwell, Dakin Andone, Kylie Atwood, Evan Perez, Jennifer Hansler, Natasha Bertrand, Frederik Pleitgen, Chris Liakos and Zahra Ullah contributed to this report.