Brittney Griner’s lawyers have filed an appeal of her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession, the Associated Press reports. The new legal move comes amid talks between the United States and Russia that could potentially lead to a prisoner swap.
On August 4, the WNBA star was convicted after police said they found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.
Griner argued in court that she did not intentionally put the cartridges in her luggage and packed them in haste. In a written statement, her defense presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain. U.S. government officials have said she has been wrongfully detained since she was taken into custody Feb. 17.
Russian news agencies on Monday (August 15) report that lawyer Maria Blagovolina said she filed the appeal, as expected, but the grounds for it weren’t immediately clear.
After Griner’s conviction, Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said the punishment was excessive, noting that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them being granted parole.
A prisoner exchange has been discussed since Griner went on trial and U.S. State Department and Russian officials have discussed the possibility of trading her, along with Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine convicted on espionage charges for Victor Bout, who is imprisoned in America for arms dealing. But no agreement has been made yet, despite the Biden Administration’s offer.
“The discussion of the quite sensitive topic of prisoner exchange of Russian and American citizens has been ongoing along the channels set out by the two presidents,” Aleksandr Darchiev, director of the North American department at the Russian Foreign Ministry told Russian news agency TASS, according to The New York Times.
The U.S. State Department for months has declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” and have vowed to bring the eight-time all-star center home.