Brittney Griner’s legal team explains why she pleaded guilty to Russian drugs charge

Brittney Griner wears a red short sleeved t-shirt with white writing on it as she is led down a stairway in Russia in handcuffs

Brittney Griner “decided to take full responsibility” with her guilty plea in hopes a Russian court may grant her a less “severe sentence”, her legal team has said. 

Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges during an appearance in Khimki Court Thursday (7 July), but she told the court that she “didn’t want to break the law”. The WNBA player could face up to a decade in a Russian penal colony if convicted, and her next court hearing is scheduled for 14 July. 

“I was in a rush packing and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bag,” Griner told the court, per BBC

The Olympic gold medalist’s legal team hoped the courts would consider Griner’s guilty plea as well as her “positive” contributions to the world of sport when handing down a sentence, the Independent reported. 

“Brittney sets an example of being brave. She decided to take full responsibility for her actions as she knows that she is a role model for many people,” the team said.

They continued: “Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and [Griner’s] personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defence hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence.”

The legal team added Griner ultimately decided to plead guilty, as “informed by discussion with her legal defence team in Russia”. 

Brittney Griner looks over her shoulder as she wears a red basketball jersey with her hair styled in locks

Brittney Griner told a Russian court she “didn’t want to break the law” as she pleaded guilty to drug charges. (Getty/Christian Petersen)

The 31-year-old basketball icon was detained in an airport near Moscow in February after authorities allegedly found vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis in her luggage. 

Brittney Griner travelled to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg in an attempt to increase her income during the WNBA’s off-season, which is a common practice for US players. Experts said Griner only had to play in Russia because of gender pay gaps and wouldn’t have gone abroad if “pay deals were different”

Her detainment has been extended multiple times, and she pleaded for help in a letter to president Joe Biden as she was “terrified” she may be trapped in Russia “forever”.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken tweeted US embassy officials attended Griner’s hearing Thursday and “delivered to her a letter” from Biden. 

“We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones,” Blinken wrote. 

Whelan was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and arrested on espionage charges – which he has vehemently denied. The former Marine was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in a trial in June 2020. 

Griner’s wife Cherelle said on Instagram that she received a call from Biden and vice president Kamala Harris. She explained both expressed a “commitment” to “getting BG [Brittney Griner] home”. 

“While I will remain concerned and outspoken until she is back home, I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife’s letter and took the time to respond,” Cherelle wrote. “I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.”

She also called on the public to use their voices to “speak the names of all the wrongfully detained Americans” and to support the Biden administration as “they do what it takes to bring them home today”.