When is Brittney Griner’s appeal hearing and what does it mean for WNBA star?

The appeal hearing will be held on 25 October

Graig Graziosi
Thursday 20 October 2022 14:46 BST
Related video: Brittney Griner appears in Russian court in shackles as trial start date announced

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been locked up in Moscow for eight months and may face years of further incarceration if an upcoming appeal does not sway the Russian courts.

Griner is planning to appeal the nine year prison sentence she was ordered to serve after a Russian court convicted her of smuggling and possessing prohibited substances.

The nine year sentence was just shy of the 10-year maximum penalty for the crime, which Griner’s lawyers called "excessive." Her lawyers pointed out that the average sentence in cases like hers tent to be around five years, and about a third of the convicts serving time for those crimes are granted parole, according to ESPN.

Griner will plead her case in an appeal hearing on 25 October.

"We need to use every legal opportunity that we have, and appeal is one of these opportunities," Maria Blagovolina, Griner’s attorney, told PEOPLE.

Griner ultimately pleaded guilty to bringing cannabis oil into the country, but said it was an "honest mistake" and claimed she had medical paperwork to prove she was prescribed the drugs.

The two-time Olympic athlete was detained in February while traveling through the Moscow airport. Griner plays with Russian teams during the off-season, allowing her to substantially increase her annual earnings. Many professional athletes continue to play their sport of choice during the offseason with international teams as a way of both supplementing their income and continuing to sharpen their skills.

Icy relations between the US and Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine has complicated efforts led by Griner’s family to secure her release. President Joe Biden has met with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, and ensured he and the US State Department were working to find a way to bring the basketball star home.

If Griner’s appeal fails, she may still have a chance to return to the US via a prisoner swap with Russia. CNN reports that the US offered to trade the basketball star and Paul Whelan — an alleged American spy imprisoned by Moscow — for Viktor Bout, the "Merchant of Death" arms dealer whose life of criminal exploits largely inspired the 2005 Nicholas Cage film "Lord of War."

Russian journalists recorded Alexander Darchiev, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, suggesting that Moscow was open to the idea of a swap, according to the Associated Press.

"This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and U.S. citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents," he told state news reporters, per the AP. "These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle.”

In the meantime, Griner continued to wait in a cell in Moscow for her next hearing. Monday was her 32nd birthday.

“Today is of course a difficult day for Brittney,” Ms Blagovolina told Reuters on Monday. “Not only is this her birthday in jail away from her family, team mates and friends, but she is very stressed in anticipation of the appeal hearing on Oct. 25.”

Without the appeal or a prisoner swap, the WNBA star will likely be transferred out of Moscow to a Russian penal camp for the remainder of her sentence.

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