Sports · July 1, 2022

Brittney Griner detention: WNBA superstar heads to “mock trial”, the Russian justice system under the microscope

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Twice Olympic gold medal and WNBA star Brittney Griner She will appear in court on Friday, more than four months after she was arrested in Russia on suspicion of carrying vaporizer cartridges containing cannabis-derived oils through a Moscow airport.

US officials fear the American basketball icon will face a “sham trial”.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia on Monday, June 27, 2022.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia on Monday, June 27, 2022.
(Photo AP / Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Griner appeared in court on Monday for the second time since her detention began in February, and his trial date has been announced for the end of this week.

The following day, Rep Colin Allred of Texas released a statement condemning his “unfair” detention and accusing Russian officials of creating the image of a fair trial.

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“Brittney Griner was unfairly detained for four months and Russia is now turning to the theater by subjecting her to a sham trial in an attempt to create a false claim that she is anything other than a political prisoner,” Allred said in a press release.

Griner could cope up to 10 years’ imprisonment if convicted.

According to a State Department report – “Russia 2021 Human Rights Report” – judges may be subject to the influence of the “executive arm, the military and other security forces” in “high-profile or politically sensitive cases” .

The same report also found that the outcomes of some trials “appeared predetermined” and that, in 2020, only 0.34% of the accused were acquitted. Even if Griner is acquitted, the sentence could be overturned under Russian law.

Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 27, 2022.

Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow, Russia, on Monday, June 27, 2022.
(Photo AP / Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Jury trials showed higher acquittal rates (23% in 2019). However, these cases are rare and the acquittals of the jury “have sometimes been overturned by the judges in the appellate courts”. Under Russian law, drug trafficking cases were subject to a jury trial, although it was not immediately known whether this would be the case with Griner.

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William Pomeranz, acting director of the Kennan Institute and expert on Russian law, told the New York Times this week that the expectation of going to trial is that the defendant will more than likely be found guilty.

“There is a bias mainly because the Russian judicial system says they really shouldn’t go to trial unless the defendant is convicted,” Pomeranz explained. “There is no real idea or expectation that the defendant could be innocent. There is no presumption of innocence, really.”

Thomas Firestone, a former legal counsel residing at the US embassy in Moscow, echoed that sentiment on the eve of Griner’s trial.

A close-up of Phoenix Mercury's Brittney Griner during training and media availability during the 2021 WNBA Finals on October 20, 2021. 11, 2021, at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.

A close-up of Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner during training and media availability during the 2021 WNBA Finals on October 20, 2021. 11, 2021, at the Footprint Center in Phoenix.
(Michael Gonzales / NBAE via Getty Images)

“It’s usually not a question of what the verdict will be,” he told the Washington Post, “it’s more a question of what the verdict will be.”

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Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo airport on February 17 after being accused of carrying vaporizer cartridges containing cannabis-derived oils through security. Her arrest took place a week before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, but news of her detention did not spread until March.

Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report.