The news that WNBA star Britney Greiner will be detained in Russia for at least another month made it clear that the American athlete’s best attempt to return home anytime soon would be through diplomatic negotiations rather than the legal system, former US State Department officials and Russian jurists. Experts say.
Butler, author of “Russian Legal and Legal Institutions,” said if Grenier was convicted of drug possession, she could be imprisoned for at least five years, up to a maximum of 10 years – and the prison term is almost guaranteed. Professor at Penn State University Dickinson Lu.
Butler said that Russian criminal law could allow a court to impose a sentence less than the minimum, but lawyers must present a convincing case.
Similar to the United States, the Russian legal system gives the presumption of innocence, and thus the Russian authorities have to prove their case at trial.
Butler said there is also the possibility of a plea bargain, but that would not be in Grenier’s favour, because defendants are still required to serve half to two-thirds of their maximum sentence.
Russia’s drug laws are widely considered to be too draconian and the country imprisons more people per capita for drug offenses than the rest of Europe, According to the Moscow Times,. Marijuana is still illegal for recreational and medicinal purposes.
“It’s a zero-tolerance jurisdiction,” Butler said. “It’s something you don’t want to mess with. People were carrying prescription drugs and they got caught up in these laws.”
Greiner, 31, has been held on drug smuggling charges since February when she was found at a Moscow airport for allegedly possessing cannabis-derived cartridges. In March, her lawyers’ application to place her under house arrest was denied.
It is not unusual for courts in Russia to defer pretrial detention.
But Greiner has not made any public statements and it is not clear what she is talking about about the charges or what she says about the circumstances surrounding her detention. Butler said silence may be a legal strategy, although Russian criminal law also limits the ways an accused can speak publicly about open investigations.
Her lawyer told the media on Friday that she had not expressed “any complaint about the conditions of detention.” During a court hearing outside Moscow, Greiner was photographed wearing a hoodie with her head down and her face covered in her hair.
The Kremlin certainly knows that Greiner — a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a powerhouse player in the Phoenix Mercury — is no ordinary American holdout, so they will likely view her as a potential bargaining chip when the time is right, said David Salvo, a deputy. Director of the Coalition for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to protect democratic institutions.
“They will try to trade horses,” said Salvo, a former State Department diplomat who worked in Russia. “It’s sad to play with someone’s life as a pawn.”
The Greiner family receives help from former US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, who also served as an international hostage negotiator. A spokesman for Richardson’s diplomatic efforts said Friday that his team continues “to work on behalf of the Britney family to secure her safe return home.”
Behind the scenes, Salvo said, back-channel talks will be crucial if Grenier is released either before trial or if she is found guilty – but it is up to whether the Russians want to negotiate and what they offer.
Last month, in a surprising turn, Russia released US prisoner Trevor Reed, a former Marine who was arrested in 2019 and accused of assaulting police after a night of heavy drinking, in exchange for President Joe Biden’s commutation of the sentence of Convict Konstantin Yaroshenko. A Russian drug smuggler spending his time in Connecticut. Reade, who was sentenced to nine years in prison, asserted his innocence.
Russia will have a list of other citizens detained in the United States who they would like to return. Experts say they include Victor Bout, an international arms dealer dubbed The Merchant of Death, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2011 for conspiring to sell weapons to rebels in Colombia.
said Stephen Sestanovich, a professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University who served as a senior State Department official overseeing policy toward Russia from 1997 to 2001.
But he added that trying to free someone like Greiner could have an unintended effect, as Russia places targets on Americans who Moscow might consider valuable assets.
“The US government should ask itself: Do we want to trade a really bad guy like Bout for someone as good as Greiner who might have made a stupid mistake?” Sestanovich said. “To get to ‘yes’ here, you have to convince people who say you’re just going to encourage the Russians to arrest more people like Greiner.”
Earlier this month, the State Department said Greiner was “unjustly being held by the Russian government,” an official designation meaning that the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, working in coordination with the State Department, could be bolder in his efforts to secure her release.
A consular official from the US Embassy in Moscow spoke to Greiner Friday during her hearing, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, who told reporters that Greiner is “doing what can be expected under what can only be described as extremely difficult circumstances.”
But since her arrest, the US Embassy has only been given access to Griner once, and all other requests have been denied.
“The State Department cannot break into a Russian prison to bring her home,” Salvo said. “I have no doubt that the department is doing everything they can to make sure they have access to it.”
Greener’s wifeWNBA and League players showed their solidarity with Griner on social media. “Today’s news of Britney Grenier was not unexpected, and the WNBA continues to work with the US government to bring BJ home safely and as soon as possible,” the league said in a statement on Friday.
Salvo said that loved ones of people detained abroad in countries like Russia should be careful what they say in public — particularly when there is still hope that they can be released.
“There is a delicate dance of their families trying to get attention with the State Department and Congress while not wanting to stoke Russia,” Salvo said. “Especially in Britney’s case, you have the eyes of the Kremlin watching.”