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WNBA champion and U.S. Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner, who was arrested in Russia last month for traveling with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, could face a 5-year sentence in a Russian labor camp, according to an expert.
University of Illinois professor and Russian law expert Peter Maggs told the Associated Press (AP) that Griner’s legal case could result in a sentence of between 5 and 10 years, and she may not necessarily go solely to prison.
“In Russia, they have a rather conservative view on drugs and it is illegal to bring all sorts of drugs into the country, including cannabis oil,” Maggs told AP, who also expressed concern about the two-to-three month extension of Griner’s preliminary detention given that, according to his interpretation, it can only be extended by a higher authority.
“We could be talking about five years, not jail time, but in a labor camp,” the expert explained. “She could be let off in less than that by some sort of community service, or she could be deported as an undesirable alien, which could perhaps be the optimal outcome.”
Maggs speculates that Griner could be innocent, given that the Russian regime is notorious for planting evidence to frame individuals who could serve them “if the regime wanted to get them in trouble.” So, so far, “we don’t know what really happened,” he says.
Working to return Griner “swift and safe”
The WNBA issued a statement in early March expressing its “full support” for Griner and saying its “main priority” is the athlete’s “swift and safe” return to the United States.
“This continues to be a complex situation that is extremely difficult for Brittney, her family, and all who are hoping for a swift resolution,” the WNBA said in the statement, quoted by Reuters.
The Phoenix Mercury team also issued a statement in support of Griner, saying they are “closely monitoring” the athlete’s situation and in “constant contact” with family members, legal representatives, the WNBA, and the NBA.
Separately, State Department officials are working alongside Griner’s team and with Russian authorities to obtain consular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including those in pretrial detention, an official spokesman told Reuters.