On July 7, WNBA star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to smuggling drug products into Russia, where she has been detained for the past several months, Reuters reported. The New York Times notes that she faces up to 10 years in a penal colony if formally convicted and sentenced.
The WNBA player was first arrested on February 17 at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow for possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She had arrived in Russia from New York to compete during her WNBA off-season. (Many players, including her Phoenix Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi, play in Russia during the winter to earn more money.)
Griner has been detained since her arrest nearly five months ago; she has not been able to see or communicate freely with her family, friends, or teammates. While pleading guilty in court on July 7, she held up a photo of her and her wife.
Below is everything we know about Brittney Griner’s arrest, detainment, and ongoing legal battle in Russia.
According to Griner, the whole situation was an accident.
During her court appearance, the two-time Olympian told the Russian court she “had no intention of breaking any Russian law,” and accidentally packed her vape cartridges while in a rush, according to the Reuters report. When asked why she pleaded guilty, Griner’s lawyers said the athlete recognizes her status as a role model and would like to acknowledge her mistakes, even if bringing cannabis oil into the country was done so unintentionally.
Since her arrest, Griner has been held in Russian prison for four and a half months.
The United States government has been classifying Griner’s detainment overseas as unlawful, according to The Washington Post. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned, per the Associated Press. In late June, her detention was extended until December 20, 2022.
“President Biden has been clear about the need to see all U.S. nationals who are held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad released, including Brittney Griner,” Adrienne Watson, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told the Post. “The U.S. government continues to work aggressively—using every available means—to bring her home.”
She faces 10 years in prison for drug charges.
Griner’s crime holds a sentence related to large-scale transportation of drugs, the Associated Press reported. Russia’s drug policies are some of the strictest in the world, and the country has one of the highest imprisonment rates for drug crimes in Europe, according to The Moscow Times.
The vape cartridge Griner was stopped with at the airport contained cannabis oil, per The New York Times. Russian forces say it was a significant amount of drugs, although the exact quantity hasn’t been released yet.
Griner and her family have pleaded with the U.S. government to bring her home safely.
The athlete begged President Biden to do something about the situation via a handwritten note, according to CNBC. Griner revealed she’s “terrified” she’ll never be able to get out of Russian prison, and turned to the president and his administration for help.