Griner, 31, was arrested on Feb. 17 at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. The Phoenix Mercury center and two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist is accused of partaking in a large-scale transportation of drugs. Griner, who plays for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason, is accused of attempting to transport hashish oil in vape cartridges. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.
CNN, quoting a TASS account, says the Russian court granted a request by law enforcement to extend Griner’s detention to continue its investigation. A Russian official is also quoted as saying that the U.S. consul has not visited Griner in jail, despite the Russian government offering the necessary “conditions” for such a visit.
In remarks earlier this month, Congressman Colin Allred contradicted that account, saying U.S. officials had been denied access to Griner. Russia is obligated pursuant to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Consular Convention to allow U.S. officials access to a U.S. citizen who is detained. At least as worded by the treaty, Russia must do so within four days. Russia, the U.S. State Department has previously complained, has failed to meet that obligation with other detained Americans. It is unknown what, if any, consequences have arisen for these violations.
Griner’s situation is perilous on several grounds.
As Penn State Dickinson Law Professor William Butler, an expert on Russian law, international and comparative law, recently told Sportico, “Russia has a zero tolerance of narcotics.” If the allegation against Griner is true, she would be subject to a severe punishment—as would other persons arrested in Russia for the same offense.
In addition, Griner would face difficult, if not insurmountable, odds should she be prosecuted. The conviction rate in Russia is more than 99%, with a report in 2019 calculating it at 99.75%. To be sure, conviction is not the only relevant statistic in assessing Griner’s legal status. She could reach a plea deal, or the charges could be dismissed before she stands trial. Still, the Russian legal system is not one where defeating the government is a likely outcome.
Moreover, Griner is being detained amid the worst period of diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S. since the height of the Cold War. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked numerous actions by the U.S. and other NATO countries against Russia, its leaders and Russian-owned assets. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden called Russian president Vladimir Putin “a war criminal,” which the Kremlin called an “unforgivable” offense. The odds that the Russian government would be lenient with an American in custody seem especially low these days.
Finally, Griner is openly gay, which carries a disfavored status under Russian law.
Griner has not been able to make public comments since her arrest.