Brittney Griner Sentenced To 9 Years For Drug Charges By Russian Court

Last Thursday, a Russian Court gave Brittney Griner 9 years in prison for smuggling and possessing two cannabis vapes that was claimed to be “accidentally packed” into her luggage. This sentencing was conducted in response to a prisoner swap offer given to Russia by the United States.

The Facts About Brittney Griner’s Case

What we do know is that Griner is set to carryout this sentencing, while also taking on a fine of 1 million rubles equivocating to about $17,000 USD. Prior to the sentence, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken had attempted to conduct a deal with Russia to swap Griner as well as Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen who is being charged for espionage, for two Russian prisoners. These two Russian prisoners are Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, and Vadim Krasikov, a Russian spy agent convicted to life for murder. Additionally, Vadim Krasikov is currently contained in Germany, which only further complicates the negotiation.

Criticism Towards Russia

The entire deal in swapping prisoners has been critiqued as adding on to Griner’s international defense. Griner’s attorneys argued that transporting the marijuana vaporizer was completely unintentional, as she regularly uses it for medical purposes. They have also noted that Griner’s sentencing seems to be unduly harsh. In the context of Russian laws, it is understandable to pay the 1 million ruble fine for trafficking cannabis; however, Griner practically received the maximum punishment for a crime that equivocates to 5 to 10 years in prison. Seeing that she was given over nine years in prison is critiqued as a means of positioning her as an international bargaining chip for Russia. One such critic is Griner’s agent, who has also argued on Twitter that her sentencing was “severe by Russian legal standards,” and is “being used as a political pawn.” President Joe Biden had also commented on the unfairness of Russia’s sentencing, and released a statement saying that he “will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

Last week on CNN, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, called Russia’s counteroffer to try to add another Russian prisoner to the prisoner swap a “bad faith attempt to avoid a very serious offer.” Based off of the facts, Russia is now weighing a military arms dealer and a convicted murderer against a person being “fictitiously charged for espionage,” and a WNBA player transporting less than one gram of cannabis oil.

Key Background

On July 7th, two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges as a result of being detained at a Russian airport for allegedly carrying two vape cartridges, both containing less than half a gram of cannabis oil. Upon being detained, Griner had presented her medical marijuana card, which allowed her to legally consume and receive cannabis for medical purposes in the United States. Griner’s lawyers argued that she had not intended to break any laws in the good faith of presenting and carrying her medical cannabis card. Despite all cannabis consumption being illegal in Russia, Griner testified that she was not read her rights after being arrested, was not offered any power of attorney, and was forced to sign documents without a translator.

After noticing the collective pleas of countless people in the United States, ranging from NBA all-star Lebron James, to the WNBA teams across the country, U.S. officials have announced last week that they will be conducting a prisoner swap deal to trade Griner and Whelan for the release of Bout. During the Soviet era, Viktor Bout had sold millions of weapons to militias and terror groups around the world, earning the reputation of being known as the “Merchant of Death.”

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