Brittney Griner's Defense Hopes for 'Lenient' Sentence in Drug Trial

Brittney Griner

The trial of WNBA star Brittney Griner continued in Moscow on Tuesday, with her defense team presenting additional evidence to support their position that the basketball player brought cannabis-infused oil cartridges to Russia by accident.

Griner's lawyers presented negative drug tests, and a drug expert testified that frequent marijuana users would continue testing positive long after the last use.

The expert, Mikhail Tetyushkin, said that medical marijuana is increasingly common in countries around the world, including the United States. He said it is often used by athletes to alleviate pain after sustaining physical trauma, supporting the defense's argument that Griner only used cannabis for medical purposes under doctor's supervision.

"It is clear that if the use is constant, it affects the nervous system, decreases the speed of reaction and thinking, decreases physical activity and the ability to perform highly coordinated movements, so professional athletes cannot use them all the time," Tetyushkin told journalists after the hearing.

"The position of the defense is not that Brittany was allowed to bring banned substances into Russia. We insist that she inadvertently – when packing her suitcase in a rush – did not notice that the substances allowed for use in the USA ended up in this suitcase and arrived in the Russian Federation. She didn't do it on purpose," one of Griner's lawyers, Alexander Boykov, said after the hearing.

Boykov added that "given the number of extenuating circumstances" in Griner's case, they expect "a pretty lenient verdict."

Griner, a two-time Olympic champion, was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport in February after vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her bags. She faces up to 10 years in prison on drug smuggling charges if found guilty.

Griner appealed in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden to secure her release. She has pleaded guilty to the charges, but maintains she had no intention to break the law.

The U.S. has officially labeled Griner as "wrongfully detained."

Griner's trial unfolds amid one of the lowest points in U.S.-Russian relations over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Russian media had speculated that Griner's best bet to return home would be if Moscow and Washington agreed on a prisoner swap. The Kremlin hinted they would be interested in the release of Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer dubbed the "Merchant of Death," who has been in U.S. custody since 2008.

Griner will be cross-examined in the next hearing, scheduled for Wednesday.