Updated Aug 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Brittney Griner sentenced to 9 years in Russian drug trial

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner is escorted by police before a hearing during her trial in Khimki, outside Moscow on Aug. 2. Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

WNBA star Brittney Griner was found guilty on drug charges by a Russian court and sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday, concluding a trial that has captured national attention and reached the highest levels of U.S. diplomacy.

Why it matters: Griner's conviction comes nearly six months after she was arrested at a Moscow airport in February, when Russian authorities said they found a vape cartridge with hashish oil in her luggage.

State of play: During closing arguments Thursday, Russian prosecutors asked that Griner be sentenced to 9.5 years in prison, AP reported.

  • "I made an honest mistake, and I hope in your ruling it does not end my life,” Griner said in her final remarks to the court Thursday, per AP.
  • Griner's legal team in Russia vowed to appeal the verdict, Reuters reported.
  • Judge Anna Sotnikova said that the time Griner served in custody since February will count toward her sentence, per AP.
  • The judge also fined Griner 1 million rubles, or about $16,700.

What they're saying: "Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney," President Biden said in a statement.

  • "It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates," Biden added.
  • "This is a miscarriage of justice. The U.S. Department of state has determined that Ms. Griner was wrongfully detained. Nothing in today's decision changes that determination," Elizabeth Rood, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Russia, said in a statement.
  • "We have made a serious proposal to the Russians to try to get Brittney and Paul Whelan — who was also wrongfully detained — home where they belong. And we urge the Russians, again, to seriously consider that proposal, to act on it, and let's get these two Americans home where they belong," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told MSNBC.

The big picture: Griner pleaded guilty to the charges last month but maintained that there was "no intent" to break the law by bringing the vape cartridges into Russia.

  • Griner's lawyers told the Russian court last month that doctors in the U.S. prescribed Griner medical cannabis two years ago for chronic pain.
  • Griner testified last month that her rights were not read to her when she was arrested and that she was instructed to sign documents without understanding what they meant.

U.S. officials have maintained that Griner was "wrongfully detained" by Russia.

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