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Brittney Griner Back in Russian Court as Lawyers Plead for Leniency


Escorted by a masked police officer with a dog, her wrists handcuffed, the American basketball star Brittney Griner appeared in a Russian court on Tuesday for one more hearing in a trial that’s more likely to end along with her conviction in the midst of this month, her lawyers said.

Among the best players of her generation, Ms. Griner has been caught up in a confrontation between Russia and the US over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Because the case is heard in a courtroom, the wrangling over Ms. Griner’s fate has shifted increasingly to the diplomatic arena, with Russia and the US signaling her possible involvement in an exchange for high-profile Russians in U.S. custody.

Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the American government had “put a considerable proposal on the table,” although he declined to debate the small print. On Thursday, he discussed the matter together with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, of their first phone call because the war in Ukraine. But no breakthroughs were reported, and no progress is predicted before Anna S. Sotnikova, a judge within the town of Khimki, near Moscow, delivers a verdict within the case.

Ms. Griner, 31, was detained in a Moscow airport while traveling to Yekaterinburg, Russia, to play for a neighborhood team there about one week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Customs officials found two vape cartridges containing lower than one gram of hashish oil in her luggage.

News of her detention was made public only after the war began, nonetheless. She was charged with attempting to smuggle a big amount of illegal narcotics into Russia, an offense that carries a sentence of as much as 10 years in prison.

What to Know About Brittney Griner’s Detention in Russia

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Why was she in Russia? Griner was in Russia playing for a world team throughout the W.N.B.A. off-season. Trading rest for overseas competition is common among the many league’s players for a lot of reasons, but often the most important motivation is money.

Last month, Ms. Griner plead guilty to the fees, stressing that she had not intended to interrupt Russian law and that the illegal substance had been in her luggage in consequence of oversight while packing in a rush. In Russia, a guilty plea doesn’t end a trial, and the proceedings are expected to proceed until mid-August, in response to her legal team.

On Tuesday, Ms. Griner’s lawyers called in an authority, who testified that the evaluation of vape cartridges carried out by the state didn’t meet Russian legal requirements.

Thus, “it will be unsuitable to determine the precise amount” of the illegal substance, said Aleksandr Boikov, Ms. Griner’s lawyer. In keeping with the Russian criminal code, the severity of punishment will depend on the quantity of narcotics discovered within the defendant’s possession, amongst other things.

Ms. Griner’s legal team is trying to influence the judge to melt the eventual sentence. That they had one in all Ms. Griner’s Russian teammates, Yevgeniya Belyakova, testify, together with the team’s director and doctor. Her legal team has also argued that she was authorized to make use of medicinal cannabis in Arizona, where she has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, to mitigate pain from injuries to her spine, ankle and knees.

During her own testimony in court last week, Ms. Griner described how upon detention she had faced a confusing and sometimes bewildering Russian legal system. Her rights weren’t explained to her and a lawyer was provided only 16 hours after her detention began, she said. Ms. Griner also said that she had been instructed to sign papers with no explanation of what they implied and that an interpreter, provided by the law enforcement, had translated “almost nothing.”

The hearing was adjourned until Thursday, when either side will present their closing arguments, said Maria Blagovolina, a lawyer with the Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners firm, which can be representing Ms. Griner.

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