Back in February of this year international basketball superstar Brittney Griner was arrested at an airport in Russia for cannabis possession. The arrest apparently involved a personal amount of vape pen cartridges that allegedly contained cannabis oil. Ultimately, Brittney Griner would plead guilty to the allegations, although many have speculated that the guilty plea was merely a procedural thing to start the process of a possible prisoner swap, as that can only occur after a conviction is rendered. Griner has appealed the sentence related to the conviction, and a Russian court has set a date for the 25th of this month for the appeal.
When it comes to initial criminal court cases Russia has a 99% conviction rate, which speaks for itself regarding the level of fairness, or lack thereof, in Russia’s court system. That is something that legal experts have pointed to as likely another reason why Griner pled guilty and seemed to throw herself at the mercy of the court, as the conviction was basically a forgone conclusion, and that is even further compounded by the political factors involved with Griner’s case. All of that brings into question what level of fairness Griner will receive during the appeal process.
Why Appeal A Conviction In A Corrupt System?
It is very much worth noting that just because a court in Russia set a date for the appeal proceeding to begin that does not mean that it will automatically occur. As evidence of that, consider how many times Griner’s initial court proceedings were delayed. The United States and Russia are currently in negotiations to include Griner in some type of prisoner swap, and it’s likely a safe bet that she will unfortunately continue to be used as a political pawn, as the rising tensions between the two countries doesn’t appear to be cooling off any time soon.
With that in mind, it seems unfathomable that a court in Russia would do anything to intervene in the situation, including reducing Griner’s nine year sentence. What is more likely to occur, in my opinion, is that her case will continue to be used as political theater, and that any number of delays and/or extensions will occur to maximize the political usefulness of that theater. Don’t get me wrong, I would obviously love to see Griner win her appeal outright and be able to come home immediately, however, that doesn’t seem to be realistic based on everything involved. Griner appealed her lower court decision presumably because she had no choice but to do so, as the alternative is to accept an inhumane conviction and related nine year sentence.
The Political Solution
Unfortunately, the odds of Brittney Griner receiving justice via Russia’s court system are not strong. In fact, they are dismal at best. Realistically, the only way that Griner will be able to come home short of serving her entire prison sentence in Russia is via a prisoner swap, and the burden of succeeding at that falls entirely on the leaders of the United States and Russia. Reports have surfaced of offers being made and rejected, however, what it will take to get a deal completed seems to be uncertain at this time.
The effort to free Griner has followed a precarious path, with the Biden administration initially seeming to be unwilling to get involved and reportedly even told Griner’s family and fellow members of the WNBA to not speak publicly about the issue for fear that ‘it may make Griner a political pawn.’ The posture from the Biden administration has since changed, both in Griner’s specific cannabis case as well as in potentially thousands of domestic cannabis possession cases via a recent mass pardon issued by President Biden. Yet, the Biden administration only represents half of the parties involved in a prisoner swap, and with the other half of the equation currently in the midst of war against an ally of the U.S., there’s no telling how long it could take, and also what it will take, before Griner is finally free.