A Russian court on Tuesday denied basketball star Brittney Griner’s appeal of her harsh Cannabis sentence. Russia jailed the American athlete earlier this year.
WNBA star Griner has about eight years left on her sentence, reports CNBC. Another appeal is possible through Russia’s court of cassation, the highest court of appeals.
Griner’s lawyers told NBC News before the hearing that the twice-decorated Olympic gold medalist was “quite pessimistic” that the judge would overrule the original verdict.
“She hopes there will be some reduction in her sentence,” Maria Blagovolina, Griner’s lawyer, told Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, adding the 32-year-old athlete will appear in court via video conference.
Busted In Moscow With Vape Cartridges
Griner plays professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason. Russian authorities arrested her in February after they found vape canisters containing THC oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Griner only uses marijuana medically, according to her lawyers. The athlete said she unintentionally packed the vape canisters in her suitcase because she was in a hurry.
Under Russian law, the charge carried a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. In August, the court found Griner guilty and sentenced to nine years. The court also ordered her to pay 1 million rubles, approximately $16,301.
The Russian court on Tuesday gave Griner 1.5 days’ credit for each day served in pre-trial detention, which at least shaved a few months off her harsh sentence, reports CNN.
Griner Begs Court To Reassess Her Sentence
Griner participated in Tuesday’s appeal hearing via video call from behind the white bars of her jail cell at a detention center near Moscow. That is where she has been held since flying into Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport where Russian customs police allegedly found vape cartridges in her luggage containing less than one gram of cannabis oil.
Griner said it is “traumatic” to be away from her family, reports Yahoo Sports. She begged the court Tuesday to take into account what went “overlooked” during her first court date and to “reassess her sentence.”
During her trial this past summer, Griner did not fight the inevitable guilty verdict. She instead vainly tried to seek a lenient sentence by apologizing for the “honest mistake.”
Biden Administration: “Miscarriage Of Justice”
Those words fell on deaf ears on August 4. That’s when a Russian judge handed down a harsh sentence, barely shy of the maximum, 10 years. Griner’s attorneys said the punishment was “absolutely unreasonable” compared to similar Russian cases.
U.S. officials agreed. The Biden Administration called the ruling a “miscarriage of justice” and cited it as further evidence that Griner had been wrongfully detained.
Many of Tuesday’s arguments presented by the athlete’s lawyers during the appeal hearing echoed those from her trial. According to reporters in the courtroom, attorneys argued the initial sentencing completely ignored the small amount of oil that Griner was carrying. In addition, the ruling ignored her lack of intent to break Russian law and the use of the substance for medical purposes, Griner’s lawyers said.
Griner Sentence “Excessive And Disproportionate”
Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boykov, told the court, “No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law.”
A top US diplomat, who attended the hearing, called the sentence “excessive and disproportionate,” reports the BBC.
White House officials maintain the athlete’s freedom is an administration priority, reports NPR. The Biden Administration has repeatedly encouraged Moscow to take the deal or propose a serious counteroffer.
Brittney will serve her jail term in a penal colony.