The drug trial of American basketball star Brittney Griner resumed Wednesday in a Russian court with Griner testifying that a language interpreter provided during her questioning translated only a fraction of what was said.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February. She acknowledged in court earlier this month that she had vape canisters containing cannabis oil when she arrived in Russia but contends she had no criminal intent and the canisters ended up in her luggage inadvertently.
During her testimony, the Phoenix Mercury standout described making a grueling 13-hour flight to Moscow from Arizona while recovering from COVID-19. She recalled how her luggage was checked upon arrival and getting pulled aside after the canisters were found in her luggage.
Along with the interpreter who allegedly provided an incomplete translation, Griner said she was offered neither an explanation of her rights nor access to lawyers and was instructed to sign documents without receiving an explanation of what they implied.
Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of transporting drugs. Her trial started July 1. and the five previous court sessions so far were short, some lasting only about an hour.
It is unclear how long the trial will last, but a court has authorized the Phoenix Mercury player’s detention until Dec. 20. Griner went to Russia to play for a Russian team in the WNBA’s off-season.
During Tuesday’s court session of about 90 minutes, a Russian neuropsychologist testified about worldwide use of medicinal cannabis, which remains illegal in Russia. Griner’s defense team has submitted a U.S. doctor’s letter recommending the basketball player use medical cannabis to treat pain.
“The Russian public has to know, and the Russian court in the first place has to know, that it was not used for recreational purposes in the United States. It was prescribed by a doctor,” defense attorney Alexander Boykov said Tuesday.
Griner’s defense nonetheless focuses on the canisters winding up in her luggage due to hasty packing, Boykov said. The medical testimony and Griner’s admission that she had the canisters were aimed at earning her a mild sentence.
“We have a lot of mitigating factors. So we do hope that the court will take it into consideration. And the courts in Russia, in fact, have very broad discretion with regard to the sentence,” said Maria Blagovolina, another of Griner’s lawyers.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said last week that the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use in parts of the U.S. had no bearing on what happens in Russia.
The slow-moving trial and Griner’s five months of detention have raised strong criticism among teammates and supporters in the United States.
Griner appealed in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden to secure her release. She has pleaded guilty to the charges, but maintains she had no intention to break the law.
The U.S. has officially labeled Griner as “wrongfully detained.”
Griner was arrested in February amid high U.S.-Moscow tensions ahead of Russia sending troops into Ukraine later that month. Some supporters contend she is being held in Russia as a pawn, possibly for a prisoner swap. American soccer notable Megan Rapinoe last week said “she’s being held as a political prisoner, obviously.”
Russian media have speculated that Griner could be exchanged for prominent Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States, and that Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia for espionage, may also figure in an exchange.
U.S. officials have not commented on the prospects for such a trade. Russian officials have said no exchange could be discussed until the conclusion of the legal proceedings against Griner.
- Brittney Griner