WNBA star Brittney Griner faces strict Russian drug legal guidelines with pretrial detention prolonged

The information Friday that WNBA star Brittney Griner could be detained in Russia for at the very least one other month made clear that the American athlete’s greatest bid to return house anytime quickly could be via diplomatic negotiations and never the authorized system, former U.S. State Department officers and Russian authorized consultants say.

If Griner is convicted on drug possession expenses, she might be locked up for at the very least 5 years with a most of 10 years — and jail time is all however assured, mentioned William E. Butler, the writer of “Russian Law and Legal Institutions” and a professor at Penn State Dickinson Law.

Russia’s prison code can enable a courtroom to impose a lower than the minimal sentence, Butler mentioned, however attorneys should give a persuasive argument.

Similar to the U.S., Russia’s authorized system grants a presumption of innocence, and so Russian authorities must show their case at trial.

There can be the opportunity of a plea deal, however that might not be to Griner’s benefit, Butler mentioned, as a result of defendants are nonetheless required to serve one-half to two-thirds of the utmost sentence.

Russian drug legal guidelines are extensively thought of draconian and the nation imprisons extra folks per capita for drug crimes in contrast with the remainder of Europe, in response to The Moscow Times. Marijuana stays unlawful for leisure and medical functions.

“They’re a zero-tolerance jurisdiction,” Butler mentioned. “It’s something you don’t want to mess with. People have been carrying prescription medications and gotten caught up in these laws.”

Griner, 31, has been held on drug smuggling expenses since February when she was present in Moscow’s airport allegedly possessing cannabis-derived vape cartridges. A request by her attorneys to be positioned on home arrest was denied in March.

It’s commonplace for courts in Russia to tug out a pre-trial detainment.

But no public statements have been made by Griner and it is unclear what she makes of the accusations or what she says had been the circumstances surrounding her arrest. Butler mentioned the silence could also be a authorized technique, though Russia’s prison code additionally limits the methods wherein the accused can communicate publicly about open investigations.

Her legal professional informed the media on Friday that she has not expressed “any complaints about the detention conditions.” During her courtroom listening to outdoors of Moscow, Griner was photographed carrying a hoodie, together with her head down and her face shielded by her hair.

The Kremlin definitely is aware of Griner — a two-time Olympic gold medalist and powerhouse participant on the Phoenix Mercury — is not any abnormal American detainee, and they also doubtless view her as a possible bargaining chip for when the time is true, mentioned David Salvo, deputy director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan group in search of to guard democratic establishments.

“They’re going to try and horse trade,” Salvo, a former diplomat on the State Department who had labored in Russia, mentioned. “It’s sad to be playing with someone’s life as a pawn.”

Griner’s household is getting assist from former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who has additionally labored as a world hostage negotiator. A spokesman for Richardson’s diplomacy efforts mentioned Friday that his group continues to “work on behalf of Brittney’s family to secure her safe return home.”

Behind the scenes, the backchannel talks might be essential if Griner is to be launched both earlier than trial or if she’s convicted — however it will likely be as much as whether or not the Russians wish to negotiate and what they’d provide, Salvo mentioned.

Last month, in a shock flip, Russia launched American prisoner Trevor Reed, a former Marine who was arrested in 2019 and accused of assaulting police after an evening of heavy consuming, in trade for President Joe Biden commuting the sentence of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving time in Connecticut. Reed, who was sentenced to 9 years in jail, has maintained his innocence.

Russia would have a listing of different nationals in custody within the U.S. whom they’d wish to see returned. Experts say amongst them could be Viktor Bout, a world arms supplier dubbed the Merchant of Death who was sentenced to 25 years in jail in 2011 for conspiring to promote weapons to rebels in Colombia.

The most up-to-date prisoner swap “raised hopes that maybe the Russians wanted to show they’re problem solvers,” mentioned Stephen Sestanovich, a professor of worldwide diplomacy at Columbia University who served because the State Department’s senior official overseeing coverage towards Russia from 1997 to 2001.

But attempting to free an individual like Griner might have an unintended impact, he added, with Russia making targets out of Americans whom Moscow may take into account precious property.

“The U.S. government has to ask itself: Do we want to trade a really bad dude like Bout for a good person like Griner who probably made a dumb mistake?” Sestanovich mentioned. “To get to yes here, you have to convince the people who say you’ll only encourage the Russians to arrest more people like Griner.”

Earlier this month, the State Department mentioned Griner is being “wrongfully detained by the Russian authorities,” an official classification that means the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, working in coordination with the State Department, can be more aggressive in its efforts to secure her release.

A consular officer from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow spoke to Griner on Friday while at her hearing, said State Department spokesman Ned Price, who told reporters that Griner is “doing in addition to will be anticipated underneath what can solely be described as exceedingly tough circumstances.”

But since her arrest, the U.S. Embassy has only been granted access to Griner once, and all other requests were denied.

“The State Department cannot storm the Russian jail to convey her house,” Salvo said. “I’ve little doubt the division is doing every part they probably can to verify they’ve entry to her.”

Griner’s wife, fellow WNBA players and the league have shown their solidarity with Griner on social media. The league said in a statement Friday that “right this moment’s information on Brittney Griner was not surprising, and the WNBA continues to work with the U.S. authorities to get BG house safely and as quickly as doable.”

Salvo said loved ones of people being detained overseas in countries such as Russia have to be prudent in what they say publicly — particularly when there’s still hope they can be freed.

“There’s a fragile dance their households must do with attempting to lift consideration with the State Department and Congress whereas not eager to inflame Russia,” Salvo said. “Especially within the case of Brittney, you have got the eyes of Kremlin watching.”

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