In a potentially pivotal turn of events, American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, who was arrested in Russia earlier this year on drug charges and has remained in custody ever since, pleaded guilty this week to taking hashish oil into the country contrary to law, as the Daily Wire reports.
Griner was detained by Russian police back in February while in possession of vaping cartridges, and though the Biden administration deemed to action “illegal,” authorities in Moscow declared, as the New York Post noted at the time, “She was caught red-handed while trying to smuggle hash oil. In Russia this is a crime.
Appearing before a judge in the town of Khimki on Thursday, Griner stated, “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.”
Despite Griner’s plea, however, her trial is not expected to come to an end anytime soon, and if she is ultimately convicted of the most serious counts leveled against her, she could face upwards of a decade in prison.
As CBS News noted, legal experts believe that the guilty plea could be a first step in an attempt by Griner’s attorneys to orchestrate a prisoner swap and thereby secure her release.
Griner’s Russian attorney, Maria Blagovolina, said on Thursday, “We of course hope for the leniency of the court. Considering all the circumstances of the case and taking into account the personality of our client, we believe that the admission of guilt should certainly be taken into account.”
“I think she pled guilty mainly to throw herself on the mercy of the court and to plead for leniency,” opined Russian law expert William Pomerantz. “We’ll have to see if she gets the maximum sentence. Clearly this case has now become a political case, and there are already discussions, allegedly, about having a plea agreement and a prisoner swap with a Russian prisoner for Brittney Griner.”
As the outlet further explained, according to Russian legal procedure, pardons and/or prisoner swaps may only be set into motion once a conviction has been obtained against a defendant, and therefore, American diplomatic overtures intended to facilitate Griner’s release will be unlikely to spur any action until she has officially been declared guilty.
That reality was essentially confirmed by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov on Thursday, when he said “there are no formal or procedural reasons to discuss further steps” until the hoopster’s trial has reached its end and that any potential prisoner swaps should be discussed “behind closed doors through the available channels.” Whether those talks will ultimately bear fruit, only time will tell.