Brittney Griner pleads guilty to Russian drug charges, ‘there was no intent’

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Last week, WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial for cannabis possession began in Moscow. She didn’t speak during the first hearing, except to say that she understood the charges that were brought against her. At some point, she wrote a letter to the White House that was also released last week, and on Wednesday her friends and family held a “Bring BG Home” rally at the Phoenix Mercury arena. On Thursday, Brittney spoke in Russian court, pleading guilty to the drug charges, but said “there was no intent” and requested to give her testimony later.

U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to a drugs charge in a Russian court on Thursday but denied she had intentionally broken the law.

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said, speaking quietly in English which was then translated into Russian for the court.

“I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she added.

Griner’s lawyers told reporters they were hoping for the most lenient sentencing possible, taking into account “the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport.”

“We, as her defense, explained to her the possible consequences. Brittney stressed that she committed the crime out of carelessness, getting ready to board a plane to Russia in a hurry, not intending to break Russian law,” said Griner’s attorney, Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin, Gortsunyan, Dyakin and Partners law firm.

“We certainly hope this circumstance, in combination with the defence evidence, will be taken into account when passing the sentence, and it will be mild.”

Griner’s legal team said it expected the trial to conclude around the beginning of August: “Brittney sets an example of being brave.”

The White House said Griner’s guilty plea would have no impact on U.S. negotiations to bring her home.

Biden spoke to Griner’s wife on Wednesday, telling her he was working to have the basketball star released “as soon as possible”, the White House said.

Officials from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow attended Griner’s trial and delivered a letter to her from Biden, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones,” he tweeted, referring to former U.S. Marine Whelan who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges.

Russian authorities say there is no basis to consider Griner’s detention illegal and that the case against her is not political despite Moscow’s fraught relations with the United States over the Russian military intervention in Ukraine.

Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday that it was difficult to exchange prisoners with the United States and suggested Washington stop talking about the fate of Griner.

Asked about Ryabkov’s remarks, the State Department said it would not comment on speculation.

The Russian foreign ministry has said Griner could appeal her sentence or apply for clemency once a verdict has been delivered.

[From Reuters]

The next hearing is on July 14. President Biden spoke to Brittany’s wife on Wednesday and sent a letter to Brittney in Moscow via the US Embassy officials who attended her trial. (According to CNN, Brittney and her wife haven’t spoken themselves since she was arrested in February). Brittney’s admission is that the cartridges were hers, but she didn’t intend to break the law and had packed for her Russia trip in a hurry. According to explanations CBS Sports compiled from various experts, pleading guilty and hoping for a lesser sentence is strategic for several reasons: the Russian legal system would not have acquitted her, a defense may have led to retribution of some sort, and a guilty plea is necessary for a potential prisoner swap down the line. Of course Russia is still insisting that Brittney’s arrest/detention is not political and the Deputy Foreign Minister made some vaguely threatening comments about “attempts by the American side to make noise in public [not] help[ing] the practical settlement off issues” and the difficulty of prisoner exchanges with the US. Hopefully the guilty plea strategy works out and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to ensure Brittney’s safe return.

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38 Responses to “Brittney Griner pleads guilty to Russian drug charges, ‘there was no intent’”

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  1. Southern+Fried says:

    I think about her everyday in a Russian jail/prison at the mercy of Putin who is an angrier than ever mfkr.

    • Elizabeth Phillips says:

      Me, too. I’ve had really awful feelings about this since she was arrested.

  2. ThatsNotOkay says:

    It is completely political. The charge is that she intended widespread distribution and trafficking of illegal drugs! Like, what? Trumped up charges because Russia is a petty bitch and wants its spies and murderers back.

    • Wiglet Watcher says:

      Of course it is. That’s why there’s discussions for a swap. If it wasn’t political there would be no discussions like the many Americans that remain in Russian prisons without fame enough to hope for this type of attention.

  3. kansasgal says:

    Let me help you find your compassion. Pretend she’s white.

    • StellainNH says:

      Not only white, but a man.

      The comment section in news articles about her are awful. There’s is such vitriol.

      • Bettyrose says:

        I don’t begin to understand who these commenters are that feel so smug and superior that they’d never enter a foreign country with a vape cartridge. Well, I suppose plenty of Americans don’t even own passports. So yeah they’d never do anything as interesting as travel.

      • Blithe says:

        Um, Bettyrose, while it’s true that plenty of Americans “don’t even own passports”, it’s also true that the vast majority of Americans don’t own vape cartridges.
        I’ll add, too, that the US is a large, diverse country, with plenty interesting travel opportunities.

        -Black chick with a passport

      • bettyrose says:

        Blithe – I was specifically referring to the ignorant trolls in the news threads who seem to think the minor infraction of having a vape cartridge in one’s suitcase should result in a lifetime penalty. Those of us who travel far and often know that it’s easy enough to have something in your suitcase that shouldn’t be there. I’ve never owned a vape cartridge, but I have brought prescription medication into countries where that medication was banned. (And I suspect that most of the trolls in those threads also don’t take advantage of the amazing travel opportunities that exists within the U.S. beyond the tourist spots in their own states/regions.)

      • Blithe says:

        bettyrose, thanks for adding to your earlier comment. You can probably tell that I haven’t read through the trolling comments that you have. I completely agree that it’s very easy to trip up on the rules, especially when traveling to multiple places — with multiple different sets of rules. You’ve reminded me that I need to start making a few amazing travel plans of my own!

      • SomeChick says:

        I know someone who accidentally smuggled weed into Japan in a makeup bag and then nearly had a heart attack when she realized! very fortunate that it wasn’t detected. they are super serious over there about that stuff. (remember what happened to Paul McCartney?)

        so I absolutely believe it was accidental. I really hope she gets to come home soon.

      • bettyrose says:

        @SomeChick –
        I used to live in Japan, and while yes the drug laws there are serious, a foreign resident caught with a tiny amount of marijuana is at worst risking a couple nights in jail and deportation, not being held as a political prisoner. Of course, Japan has convicted and sentenced foreigners who entered the country with narcotics and intent to sell, but that’s a completely different issue (and I’m not aware of Japan ever denying a foreign detainee access to their embassy). Griner has spent a lot of time in Russia, so I’m also guessing that until the minute they invaded the Ukraine, they weren’t cracking down on Americans with vape cartridges, and she was familiar with what was acceptable and what wasn’t (it all changed very quickly).

  4. HandforthParish says:

    It is indeed completely political, and sadly she has been forgotten by the world.
    How terrifying it must be to realise you’ve been sacrificed as a useless pawn in a game of tit for tat.

    Putin is lashing out at everyone right now. He’s now detained the Russian hockey goalie, who had just signed a contract with an NHL team and sent him to an Arctic military base to train him up as cannon fodder in Ukraine.
    I bet this will make more waves than poor Brittney Griner.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Absolutely political. I feel so scared for her. And now they’re talking prisoner swap? That’s her best chance at getting out of there? She’s been there far too long as it is & that could take years.

  5. NYC212 says:

    I do not see how this ends in a prisoner swap considering how bad our relations with Russia are. The US cannot be seen to be offering Russia a stick of gum, let alone a prisoner it wants back. And, the type of prisoner swaps we have done with Russia have been for spies we wanted back and spies they wanted back. Biden also cannot move to get Griner back without getting the US Marine who’s in a Russian prison back before her or with her. The one prisoner Russia might want back is an international arms dealer and he’s definitely not getting swapped because he can get Putin access to the weapons he needs to replace the ones he is losing and cannot replace due to sanctions.

    Putin is not in the mood to deal either. He is in his feelings about his flop of a “special operation” and becoming the global pariah he should have been years ago. He’s out here killing his friends and purging the military and FSB ranks. No fewer than eight oligarchs have been murdered in the past month. In the case of two of them, their wives and children were shot to death alongside them. He’s caught up in trying to pretend that he’s a big bad man who can stand up to the west and, now that his military has been exposed to be trash, he too cannot be seen giving the US anything lest he appear weak.

    This is such a mess. Her only hope is that the oligarch who’s the president of the team she plays for can buy her way out or Putin pulls one of his stunts where he lets her out to show that he’s the bigger person. The former used to be something I was hopeful about but Putin is now just killing oligarchs for their money so bribes aren’t really a thing anymore. 🙁

    • BothSidesNow says:

      @ NYC212, I can’t imagine Putin being the “bigger” man in any scenario. I believe we have known that the arrest was solely an act on Putin’s part to have him gain access and release of that massive arms dealer since day one. Putin has always been a pariah, this is nothing new. Putin has zero issue with murdering millions of people at the drop of a hat, as evident with backing al-Assad with providing as well as dropping chemical weapons for al-Assad. al-Assad, as well as Putin, are both powers that openly commit Crimes Against Humanity. We could add to that list as those in the East too.

      Putin’s actions are ALL political. As for Putin’s intentions with Ukraine, as well as Crimea, this has been his main agenda since the early ‘90’s. Putin is trying to restore the Soviet Union back into the land mass that it was before the breakup of the S.U.. Until Putin has restored the former S. U., these “special operations” will not end, unless Putin is dead or is no longer in power. But Putin should never be given one moment of peace from surveillance. Putin, in power or not, will never end his pursuit to right the wrongs that he feels is his personal responsibility to rectify.

    • Blithe says:

      NYC212, that’s what I’ve wondered and hoped: if, instead of negotiating directly, there are things that Biden, and others in the US, can do to help the team owner with getting her out. It might be the most effective strategy, and it also allows Putin to save face.

  6. Gabby says:

    Like hell she did. Oh, I realize that’s her “official” plea. I wonder what they threatened to do to her if she pled otherwise.

  7. snappyfish says:

    I think pleading guilty and stating there “was no intent” was a legal mistake. The minute she was denied an American Russian translator I knew there would be trouble. She pled and then the Russian translated her plea. That translation simply cannot be trusted. I am truly worried about her safety. She is a black gay woman in the country that isn’t a big fan of either and there is no such thing as a rule of law. I hate to say this but they should release the Clinton. Bill might be able to get her out.

    • Summer says:

      @Snappyfish Really? What could Bill Clinton do?

      Like others here, I am very worried about her. I listened to The Daily podcast about her detention, and yes, this is 100% political, and Russia is trying to get Viktor Bout, a huge arms dealer, for her, which is a preposterous trade.

      • snappyfish says:

        Bill managed to get two journalists out of North Korea. He had a good relationship with Russia during his tenure. Because she plead guilty she will need all the help she can get. And Bill is well like abroad. Its worth a try

    • BothSidesNow says:

      I too am worried about her. The fact that she plead guilty is upsetting as well as mind boggling. Why the hell would she plead guilty? Griner is being played a fool.

      As for the family of the Whelan that has been imprisoned since 2018 is calling fowl, as they should be. Their husband, father, son and brother has not had the coverage or the direct line of communications with the WH at all. Whereas Garner has had a massive show of support throughout her entire ordeal. We must not forget Whelan in this political ploy as well!!

      • Blithe says:

        I can’t find the source where I read this, so it might not be entirely accurate, but I read that in Russia, 99% of people in her situation would be found guilty, so that it was in her best interest to plead guilty, and state on record that her intentions were innocent, so that she could request a lenient sentence. Once the sentence is established, then she can negotiate for a lighter one.
        It made sense to me as I read it. If I can find the article again, I’ll come back with more specific information.

      • JanetDR says:

        My understanding is that she sped up the process by pleading guilty, and now they can work on getting her out of there. We will have to give them someone to get her back, but I believe it will happen. I don’t expect we will get any updates on it until she’s safely off Russian soil.

  8. Lizzie says:

    I’ve also worried about Brittney since day 1. I’m of the generation who were traumatized by the movie Midnight Express.
    She is in my prayers.

    • BeanieBean says:

      You know, now that you’ve stated it, I think that may be the base of my fears for her, too. That movie terrified me.

    • snappyfish says:

      That movie terrified me. So much so to this day, if I buy things abroad I have them shipped home by the store.

      • sarphati says:

        When I was mugged in Moscow, the official police car was a beat up Lada with no identifying marks. Nor did the 4 burly men stuffed inside. Before they dumped me at the American Embassy, the stopped in mid traffic to change their oil filter. Not a peep to me. I figured I was lucky to be traded off to a labor camp and was happy to be literally kicked out of the car by the Embassy. My heart goes out to Brittney. Never I have I ever been so happy to be home!

    • Truthiness says:

      She is a tall black gay woman who is a better athlete on her worst day than Putin on his best day, those things matter to that cruel little man. I worry about her and Ukraine every day.

  9. Dashen'ka says:

    I am originally from this awful country. I Don’t care what this woman did, they take her and keep her to use later. Today they say prisoner exchange. Do you think people never bring drug to Russia? There is no real law, the thugs decide who will get trouble, who let go. Please understand this. Country full of terrible racist, nobody they hate more than black US women.

    • SomeChick says:

      I’m glad you got out, Dashen’ka! I really feel for the people stuck there, along with Ukraine. it’s awful what Putin and his thugs get away with.

    • bettyrose says:

      Thank you for sharing that. No rational person on this earth thinks she’s being detained for violating Russia’s delicate sensibilities in regards to drug use.

  10. jferber says:

    Yes, I worry about her, too. I hope she gets the best advice and her nightmare will soon be over and she’ll be returned to the U.S.

  11. bettyrose says:

    Everyone else is thinking about the time that former president Clinton flew his own jet to North Korea to negotiate for the release of two attractive female reporters, right? Get it done again Clinton. At this point, I’ve accepted that he’s a rapist, possibly a pedophile, and very likely was involved in putting the hit on Epstein, but he seems to know how to negotiate with deranged megolomaniacs. Doesn’t further victimize his survivors for him to help Griner.

  12. detritus says:

    So worried for her. I hope she gets out soon.

    Russia is not safe for anyone, let alone someone like Griner.

  13. jferber says:

    Jimmy Carter was always good at getting hostages released too. He will always be one of my favorite presidents and the Europeans always respected him far more than Americans.

    • BeanieBean says:

      Except when he was actually president. Remember the Iran hostage crises? That killed Jimmy Carter’s chances at a second term.

  14. Well Wisher says:

    After the case is accepted into law, I hope for swift movcement to the negotiations so that Britney can be reunited with her wife and continue to earn a living.
    I hope the WNBA will pay their players decent wages so they do not have to use their downtime to earn extra revenue.