Brittney Griner will have her appeal heard Tuesday in Russia. The two-time U.S. Olympian and Phoenix Mercury star is seeking a reduction of the nine-year sentence she received for drug charges in August.
Griner’s lawyers filed the appeal in August after she had already been convicted of allegedly bringing vape cartridges that contained hashish oil into Russia.
The U.S. State Department classified her as “wrongfully detained” in May. Her supporters have characterized the punishment as harsh, and Russian legal experts have repeatedly referred to the legal proceedings surrounding her case as a “sham” and political stunt.
However, Griner is at the mercy of the Russian political system and will likely depend on a prisoner swap orchestrated by the United States government to return sooner – regardless of her appeal’s outcome.
“She is prepared for the appeal and is very nervous,” Griner’s legal team said in a series of statements released by her representatives.
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What can the appeal do?
There are three potential outcomes, according to Griner’s legal team, lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov.
The first is that the appeals court does nothing to the original verdict. In that case, the sentence of nine years in a Russian penal colony would stand.
The appeals court could overrule the case and send it back to the court of first instance, the lower-level tribunal that originally sentenced Griner.
The appeal could also lead to a reduction in the number of years sentenced. Blagovolina and Boykov said in August that was the primary purpose of the appeal.
How soon will the appeal be decided?
Blagovolina and Boykov said the appeal hearing normally happens within one court session. They expect a verdict to be reached Tuesday, assuming there are no technical or organizational issues.
“Brittney does not expect any miracles to happen, but hopes that the appeal court will hear the arguments of the defense and reduce the number of years,” her lawyers said.
Where is Brittney Griner?
Griner, who turned 32 last Tuesday, won’t physically be in the room but will appear via videoconference. She remains in the pretrial detention facility that has held her for months. Boykov and Blagovolina are able to see her often, they said.
Griner’s whereabouts could become less clear if her transfer to the penal colony is initiated after the appeal. That journey by train can last more than a month and communication becomes unstable.
How is Brittney Griner’s mental health?
Griner is “very mentally strong and has a champion’s character,” her lawyers said.
“However, she of course has her highs and lows as she is under an increasing amount of stress and has been separated from her loved ones for over eight months,” they added.
Cherelle Griner, her wife, spoke of the emotional toll Griner’s detainment has caused the family.
“It terrifies me because when you watch movies sometimes those situations don’t end well,” Cherelle Griner told CBS “This Morning” on Oct. 6. “Sometimes they never get the person back.
“This is my life, so I am sitting there, like, do we get her back, do I ever get to see my wife again? It’s terrifying.”
WNBA, NBA players supporting Brittney Griner
Griner was front-of-mind throughout the 2022 WNBA season and Team USA’s World Cup victory earlier this month, which the team dedicated to Griner.
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry took time during the team’s championship ring ceremony last Tuesday night to make an impassioned plea in support of Griner.
“We want to continue to let her name be known and we pray … it’s been 243 days since she was wrongfully incarcerated in Russia,” said Curry, who also wore a Griner No. 42 Mercury jersey while he hosted the ESPY Awards in July. “We hope that she comes home soon, that everybody’s doing their part to get her home.”
Contributing: Associated Press
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.