A Moscow regional court upheld Griner’s August conviction on charges of drug possession and drug smuggling with criminal intent. The court rejected arguments from Griner’s defense attorneys that her nine-year prison sentence was excessive and unjustified under Russian law.
Griner participated in Tuesday’s appeal hearing via video call from behind the white bars of her jail cell at a detention center outside Moscow. She has been held there since last February when she flew into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and Russian police allegedly found cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage.
Many of the arguments presented by Griner’s lawyers during Tuesday’s appeal hearing mirrored those from her trial. Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov argued that the initial conviction and sentencing completely ignored that Griner was carrying less than a gram of cannabis oil, that she didn’t intend to break Russian law and that she used the substance for medical purposes.
At the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Griner spoke directly to the court. Calling it “traumatic” to be away from her family, Griner begged the court to take into account what went “overlooked” during her first court date and to “reassess her sentence.”
Those words fell on deaf ears, just like they did on Aug. 4 when a Russian judge handed down a sentence just shy of the maximum allowable 10 years. In a statement to the media after Tuesday’s hearing, Blagovolina and Boykov said they were “very disappointed” and reiterated that they “still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts existing court practice.”
Within hours of the conclusion of Griner’s appeal hearing, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan slammed it as a “sham judicial proceeding.” Sullivan said the Biden Administration “has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan.”
Since the appeals court rejected Griner’s appeal and endorsed the lower court’s initial verdict, the eight-time WNBA all-star soon may have to endure somewhere worse than the Novoye Grishino pre-trial detention center where she has been held the past eight months.
Her sentence calls for her to be transferred to a penal colony, where conditions can be more brutal and inmates are required to perform labor during their sentence.
There are hundreds of penal colonies in Russia, many of them scattered across Siberia. Griner’s attorneys are expected to ask for her to be sent somewhere close to Moscow so that they can maintain contact with her, but the final decision will not be theirs.