Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison by a Russian court on Aug. 4 and is absolutely dumfounded, according to her lawyers. “She’s devastated. She is very upset and she’s honestly quite shocked, so she needs to digest what happened today,” Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners, told People in a statement following the verdict.
The 31-year-old WNBA player was arrested in February after marijuana vape cartridges were found in her luggage as she traveled to Mosco, Russia to play basketball. She pleaded guilty at the start of her trial, which commenced in July. During her closing comments, Brittney told the judge her carrying of marijuana was “an honest mistake” and asked for a shorter sentence than the 10 years she was up for. “I understand everything that has been said against me in the charges against me, but I had no intent to break Russian law,” she explained. “I want the court to understand that it was an honest mistake that I made while rushing and in stress trying to recover post-Covid and just trying to get back to my team.” The judge thought otherwise, ruling that Brittney had criminal intent.
Maria and Brittney’s other lawyer, Alexander Boykov of the Moscow Legal Center, told People the nine-year sentence was double of what they expected the outcome to be. “So nine years, it’s pretty unusual and it contradicts the existing court practice in Russia,” Maria stated. “That’s why we are really disappointed and very much surprised by this decision of the court.”
Maria and Alexander said that “as a legal team, we need to do [the] maximum to get a shorter term”, so an appeal will likely follow. However, it won’t be a quick process, as Alexander said the appeal can “take a month or two or more than three,” adding that “it’s not very fast.”
BREAKING: Pres. Biden on Brittney Griner's sentence in Russian drug trial: "Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates." https://t.co/8jMkbBBnaH pic.twitter.com/LwFZdLwzvh
— Good Morning America (@GMA) August 4, 2022
Following the verdict, President Joe Biden denounced the Russian court and demanded that Brittney be released. “Today, American citizen Britney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Britney,” he tweeted. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Britney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”