Brittney Griner Was Sentenced To Nine Years In Prison By a Russian Court On Drug Charges.

Joe Biden describes the penalty handed down to the WNBA player, who was detained at a Moscow airport in February, as 'unacceptable.'

In a case that has hit the top levels of US-Russia diplomacy, a Russian court has found US basketball star Brittney Griner guilty of drug smuggling and sentenced her to nine years in jail.

Judge Anna Sotnikova admitted to police in the town of Khimki, close outside Moscow, that the court "found the defendant guilty" of smuggling and having "a considerable amount of drugs." In addition, the player was fined one million rubles ($16,300).

US Vice President Joe Biden slammed the judgment, calling it "unacceptable" and repeating his requests for the player's release. "My administration will work relentlessly and explore every conceivable option to return Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible," he stated, referring to another American imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges.

Sotnikova stated on Thursday that Griner committed the crime "on purpose." However, Griner testified during the trial that it was an error. Griner's family, teammates, and friends have been pleading with the US government to throw its entire weight behind the case in order to secure her release.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA star, was detained on February 17 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport after entering the country with vape canisters containing cannabis oil.

While speaking in court on Thursday before her sentencing, she termed it a "honest mistake."

"I never planned to injure anyone, I never intended to endanger the Russian people, and I never intended to violate Russian law," Griner said via a translator as he stood in the metal cage designated for defendants in Russian courtrooms. She expressed regret to her family, teammates, and spouse. Her arrest occurred one week before Russia invaded Ukraine, at a period of increased tensions between Moscow and Washington.

Griner pleaded guilty once her trial began in July, claiming she did not bring the canisters into Russia on purpose. In Russia, cannabis is illegal for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Griner's attorneys said they want to appeal the judgment, accusing the court of disregarding the defense's evidence.

"Taking into account the quantity of content - not to mention the shortcomings of the expertise - and the plea, the verdict is completely unfair," her defense team said in a statement. The high-stakes idea of a prisoner swap will now command attention.

Griner's case was transferred to the supervision of the US Department of State's special presidential envoy for hostage matters, effectively the government's leading hostage negotiator, in July.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and urged him to accept a deal that would free Griner and Whelan.

The call between Lavrov and Blinken was the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow since Russia launched its full-fledged invasion of Ukraine. The direct outreach regarding Griner ran counter to US efforts to isolate the Kremlin.

Blinken said on Thursday that Griner's sentence "further deepens the injustice of her unlawful confinement," pledging to keep pushing to bring her "home." "Russia, and any country involved in unlawful detention," he added in a statement.

Griner informed the Russian court on Thursday that she hoped politics would not play a role in the case.

"I know everyone is talking about political pawns and politics, but I hope that's far away from this courtroom," Griner remarked before to the judge's decision.

Griner, 31, had travelled to Russia from the United States to join her club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, for the playoffs. During the WNBA offseason, she competed in the Russian Women's Basketball Premier League.

Griner was perplexed as to how the vape cartridges came up in her suitcase during her testimony last week.

“I still don’t understand to this day how they ended up in my bag,” she told the court on July 27. “If I had to guess on how they ended up in my bags, I was in a rush packing.”

On Thursday, US politicians, activists, and athletes condemned Griner's punishment, emphasizing that it was about the geopolitical rivalry between Washington and Moscow, not the drug allegations.

The sentence was "unsurprising as it is unjust," according to US Congressman Ruben Gallego, who represents parts of Phoenix, Arizona, where Griner played before leaving for Russia.

"It's evident that Russia regards Ms. Griner as a political pawn in their conflict in Ukraine," Gallego tweeted. "I'll continue to support the Biden administration's efforts to bring her home."

Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley termed the punishment a "miscarriage of justice," stating that it is "clearer than ever that Brittney Griner is being unlawfully jailed merely because of her ethnicity." Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, expressed worry that the sentencing was politically motivated.

"Nine years in prison for smuggling two vape cartridges into Russia!" "That appears to be a sentence tailored not to the gravity of the offense but to boost her worth as a negotiating chip for Russians detained by the US," he commented on Twitter.