Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner is scheduled to appear in court on May 19, and the upcoming case could determine her fate in Russia. The two-time Olympic gold medalist is currently being held on drug charges in the war-torn country and if convicted, she could face up to 10 years in a Russian prison.
Legal experts say that investigators may request to extend the basketball player’s time in detention in order to gather more evidence, while others speculate that Russian officials will formally bring charges against the 31-year-old. Back in March, Russian authorities opened up a criminal case against Griner stemming from her arrest at Sheremetyevo Airport in late February. As previously reported, the WNBA player was detained after the Russian Customs Service found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. Griner’s defense team will have the opportunity to object or request additional evidence in the case during May’s court appearance, according to Yahoo Sports. An official trial will be scheduled after.
Questions still loom around how the case process will proceed. In fact, U.S. authorities haven’t issued any further details about Griner’s status since an official from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was granted consular access to the Houston native back in March. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price claimed that the WNBA star was “in good condition” at the time. “We will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network, to see to it that she is treated fairly,” he added.
AP News reported that officials stateside are watching Griner’s case carefully but haven’t provided more details to the public because she hasn’t signed a full Privacy Act Waiver, which prohibits the U.S. Consular Office from releasing any information on the ball player’s situation unless she gives written consent. Right now, the U.S. government has its hands tied in terms of helping Griner end her criminal prosecution in Russia because of strict diplomatic policies, especially as Russia continues to rage war against Ukraine, and as the U.S. continues to place sanctions upon the country.
“Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” said Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of the US House Armed Services Committee on Mar. 7. “Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions.”
Additionally, Garamendi noted that Russia “has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws,” but it’s unclear as to whether that will affect the WNBA star’s case.
A Howard University professor told AP News he feared “hyper-nationalism in Russia” could thwart Griner’s chance at freedom because “anyone who’s not considered Slavic is considered an outsider and a potential threat.” But, he also mentioned that there could be a possibility of Putin creating “an inroad into the African American community” by granting her release. Only time will tell.
Back in America, Griner’s fellow WNBA teammates are growing worried as the trial date inches closer. Some are hesitant to speak out publically about the case out of fear that it may impact her chances of release.
“I spent 10 years there, so I know the way things work,” Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi said of Russia. “It’s delicate.”
Griner’s Mercury teammate Sophie Cunningham echoed a similar sentiment.
“It’s BG, there’s no one like her in the whole world. We definitely miss her, but it’s not even about basketball anymore. We just want her to be well as a human being,” she explained. “She has a big stage, a lot of people know her, so we want her to be on the court. Everyone who loves her just wants her to be home safe.”
Griner’s detention period was recently extended to May 19.