Four months after being detained and detained in Russia, WNBA star and Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner will begin legal proceedings on Friday, according to the Associated Press. She will remain in detention for the duration of her criminal trial.
Griner has been detained in Russia since February after being arrested at a Moscow airport on suspicion of possession of cannabis. Experts say she is likely to be sentenced.
Nearly two months after Griner’s arrest, the US State Department reclassified his case as wrongful detention.
Calls for his release from Russian custody have been made by many well-known names in the basketball community, including LeBron James, Monty Williams and Diana Taurasi, as well as the rest of the Phoenix Mercury franchise.
Here’s what you need to know at the start of his trial:
Who is Britney Griner?
At 31, Brittney Griner is one of the most accomplished basketball players. She won the WNBA All-Star award seven times, won the Olympic gold medal twice for Team USA. and earned numerous other accolades on the field.
In addition to playing for the Mercury, the 6-foot-9 star has played for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason since 2015.
Off the court, Griner is equally celebrated by her supporters as the first openly gay athlete to sign an endorsement with Nike. Griner has also been involved in the Phoenix community through various philanthropic initiatives.
AboutBritney Griner: Life of Mercury’s star as complicated as Russian detention suggests
Most recently, in the summer of 2020, she teamed up with Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns to help raise funds for COVID-19 relief and for the Black Lives Matter movement.
What was Brittney Griner doing in Russia?
Like other WNBA players, Griner was in Russia playing in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League, playing for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg for the past seven years.
This is of course a way for American athletes to practice this sport and earn extra income. For comparison, in Russia she earned up to $1.5 million in a single year. His base salary at the Phoenix Mercury last season was just $215,000.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Americans who were gamers in Russia sought to leave the country. Canceled flights and deteriorating diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States have made this increasingly difficult.
Why was Brittney Griner detained?
Griner was arrested on February 17, when authorities allegedly found cannabis vape cartridges in her hand luggage as she passed through an airport outside of Moscow.
Cannabis is considered a Schedule I substance under US federal law. This means that regardless of whether your state legislature has legalized the substance, it is not advisable to transport it across state lines.
Can I fly with a cannabis vaporizer? What to know after Brittney Griner’s arrest in Russia
When the Russian Federal Customs Service announced the arrest, it mentioned that these charges could potentially lead to a maximum of 10 years in prison.
In an interview with The Arizona RepublicPenn State Dickinson law professor William Butler described Russia’s narcotics law as a “zero tolerance policy.”
How long could Brittney Griner’s trial last?
In June, a Russian court extended Griner’s pretrial detention for the second time since his February arrest. She was told she would have to wait until July 2 for her case to be heard.
His first court appearance is scheduled for Friday.
A State Department spokesperson said the extensions are part of the reason the US government has classified his arrest as abusive.
“This case is problematic from top to bottom,” he said. “This is precisely why we have called Brittney Griner an illegal detainee. This is precisely why we are doing everything in our power to demand and secure her speedy release from detention in Russia.
Republic reporter Lane Sainty spoke with William Pomeranz, the acting director of the Kennan Institute. Pomeranz, who has practiced law in the Russian justice system, said he fears for Griner as his trial unfolds.
“I guess she will have a trial,” he said. “I guess she will be convicted. There is a 99% conviction rate in the Russian Federation.”
According to the Associated Press, less than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted and acquittals can be overturned.
Was Griner able to communicate with his relatives in the United States?
A phone call was planned between Brittney Griner and his wife, Cherelle Griner, in an attempt to connect on the couple’s June 18 anniversary.
According to Biden administration officials, due to an “unfortunate error” the call could not be completed and had to be rescheduled. According to the Associated Press, the telephone line intended to connect the two men was not available at the United States Embassy in Moscow that day.
It would have been the first time the two had spoken to each other since Brittney Griner’s arrest.
Despite this, according to the Associated Press, Griner may have received emails and letters WNBA players while in custody. Hundreds of emails have been sent by players to an account Griner’s agent created for them to communicate with her.
What is the US government doing about Brittney Griner?
The State Department said it would take a more aggressive approach to freeing Griner from Russian custody.
On June 24, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the Russian government to release Griner. This was presented by Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona along with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Colin Allred of Texas.
Call to action: Stanton’s resolve pushing to free Brittney Griner passes House
In a written statement, Stanton said, “Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Brittney and work to bring her home. … We will continue to press for her release and ensure that she is not forgotten.”
Speculation has grown over whether Griner could be freed as part of a prisoner swap deal struck by the United States and Russia. Earlier this year, a similar swap was made for Trevor Reed, who had been detained in Russia since 2019.