Brittney Griner appealed her 9-year Russian prison sentence, but the move is unlikely to free the WNBA star

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner is escorted from a court room at the close of her Russian trial.AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
  • Brittney Griner's lawyers have appealed the WNBA superstar's 9-year Russian prison sentence.

  • Griner was convicted of drug smuggling, but the US government maintains she's wrongfully detained.

  • A legal expert told Insider that the appeal is unlikely to reduce Griner's sentence.

Brittney Griner and her attorneys have appealed her nine-year Russian prison sentence.

The WNBA superstar, who was detained in February when customs agents at a Moscow airport said they found cannabis oil in her luggage, was found guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent and issued a near-maximum sentence in early August. Now, her defense team has appealed the verdict due to violations throughout her trial.

Brittney Griner
Griner in her defendant's cage during her trial.Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP

Aleksandr Boikov, one of the lawyers representing Griner, told The New York Times that the judge who heard the star's case ignored "serious procedural violations during detention, extraction of physical evidence, arrest, and investigation." The resulting verdict, he said, did "not correspond to the current legal practice of Russian courts."

Griner's legal team had highlighted such violations in court testimony during the initial trial, but Judge Anna Sotnikova still handed down a sentence Boikov described to the Times as "unprecedentedly harsh." One legal expert told Insider that the appeal is very unlikely to help expedite the two-time Olympic gold medalist's return to the United States.

"[Griner's attorneys] can argue what they like, but there weren't procedural violations — at least according to the judge," Aron Solomon, the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital, said. "In Russia, that's all that will matter."

Brittney Griner.
Griner is escorted past cameras following a hearing.Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP

Still, Solomon explained that "appealing to Judge Sotnikova is something that Griner's counsel should do as a matter of course."

"While it makes sense procedurally, the judge already acknowledged that she took into account Griner's admission of wrongdoing, remorse, and what she has accomplished in Russia as an athlete and person," he added. "So will this change anything? No."

Neither Russia's greater than 99% conviction rate nor the judicial system's ability to overturn acquittals helps matters for Griner, either. But the legal move does allow the eight-time WNBA All-Star to avoid relocating to a more remote, and far harsher, penal colony — at least for the time being.

Brittney Griner.
Griner speaks with her attorneys.REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool

Griner will remain at a Russian prison just outside Moscow for the duration of her appeals process, which her lawyers estimate will take roughly three months to complete. In the interim, the 6-foot-9 center and her supporters hope that the American star — whom the US government considers "wrongfully detained" — will come home via a prisoner swap with Russia.

Though rumors of Moscow exchanging Griner and fellow detained American Paul Whelan for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout have been swirling for several months, the US did not officially extend any offers to the Russian government until June. The Kremlin neglected to formally respond before Griner's trial concluded and called on the Americans to keep negotiations "discreet."

Discussions between the global superpowers — whose conflict over Ukraine only complicates matters — are reportedly still ongoing. Griner is entering her seventh month in Russian custody.

Read the original article on Insider