On Thursday, WNBA star Brittney Griner pled guilty to drug charges at a Moscow court, leaving the possibility of facing up to 10 years in a Russian prison. According to Reuters, the athlete took responsibility for her actions but mentioned that she had no intention of breaking the law:
“I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law. I'd like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare.”
Brittney Griner’s attorney Alexander Boikov echoed similar sentiments while speaking to reporters outside the courtroom and said that the former accidentally packed the drugs in her luggage:
“She [Brittney Griner] was in a hurry as she was packing, and it was just by accident that it ended up in her luggage.”
Meanwhile, lawyer Maria Blagovolina added that the basketball champion decided to owe up to her mistake as a role model for many people:
“Considering her personality, that she is a role model to many people, to many young people — she just thinks she should be responsible for her actions.”
Brittney Griner’s legal team also said that due to the “insignificant” amount of substance found in the athlete’s luggage and for her “positive contributions to global and Russian sport,” defense authorities are hoping that the court will consider the plea as a “mitigating factor” and refrain from announcing a “severe sentence.”
What would be the result of Brittney Griner’s guilty plea?
American basketball player Brittney Griner was detained at the Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17 after Federal Security Service claimed to have found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage, a substance considered illegal in Russia.
Following her arrest, the WNBA star spent nearly 130 days in prison, with her trial beginning on July 1. During the latest hearing, Griner pled guilty to drug charges but said that her actions were unintentional and that she did not want to break legal rules.
Although the guilty plea opened the possibility of the athlete facing up to 10 years in a Russian prison, experts believe that it was the best decision in the current situation.
William Pomeranz, acting director of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute in Washington and a Russian law expert, told ESPN that a guilty plea could be considered the best defense:
“Traditionally, the best defense is to admit your guilt and hope you get a lesser sentence. There's not a lot of examples of people raising strong defenses and getting acquitted.”
Legal expert Aron Solomon also told Business Insider that Griner’s plea could possibly take her closer to the “finish line” faster:
“She is following the best legal and political advice she can get in her situation. Practically, it makes no difference what he plea is, as she's going to be found guilty.”
ESPN’s TJ Quinn also opined that pleading guilty was the best option for Brittney Griner to provide Russian authorities the chance to consider her plea to send her home:
“Pleading now, it was thought, would get that out of the way and possibly help move negotiations forward.”
Ever since Griner was arrested in Russia, her family and friends have continued to make repeated calls for her release in the U.S. Earlier in May. The U.S. officially declared that Griner was “wrongfully detained” in Russia and hinted that the government did not believe there was a “legitimate case” against the player.
The move also prompted Brittney Griner’s close acquaintances, including her wife Cherelle, to campaign for her return. Cherelle appeared on Good Morning America and claimed that Griner was as a “political pawn” between the two countries:
“I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She's a political pawn. So if they're holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
In another interview with Rev. Al Sharpton, Cherelle shared that Griner mentioned she was “struggling” and “terrified” in her letters from prison. In response, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris assured Cherelle that they were working to ensure Griner’s release “as soon as possible.”
Prior to her guilty plea, the Phoenix Mercury center wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, sharing her fear of being detained in a Russian prison forever. She wrote:
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I'm terrified I might be here forever... I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don't forget about me and the other detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.”
As per Business Insider, Brittney Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas also requested Biden to work towards the former’s release:
“We ask President Biden to do what is necessary to get a deal done to bring Brittney home as quickly as possible. Getting BG home will be seen and celebrated as a win for America.”
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the President was “doing everything he can” to ensure Griner’s release. Her next court hearing is scheduled for July 14, 2022.