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What could happen next for Brittany Griner?

Experts say the country’s strict drug laws also give some indication of what may happen next for Griner.

Some experts who spoke with CNN were quick to link Griner’s arrest to the bigger geopolitical picture, and warned that he was likely to be used as a bargaining chip in the coming days. Others say it is too early to make any connection between the drug charges Griner is facing and tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s Federal Customs Agency says a criminal case is underway, and state media reports that Griner has been charged with drug trafficking after cannabis oil was allegedly found in her suitcase at a Moscow airport. Is.

These are serious allegations, given how strict Russia’s drug laws are, says Penn State Dickinson law professor William E. Butler.

“Russia has and has had a zero tolerance attitude towards drugs for many decades, so it is a serious crime,” he says.

In addition to a possible imposition of a fine, Butler says the crime is charged with a possible sentence of 5-10 years in prison on Griner.

Brittany Griner of the Phoenix Mercury has been detained in Russia for weeks.

False allegations are a possibility

But it’s also important to consider another possibility, says Peter Maggs, a professor of law at the University of Illinois and an expert on Russia’s Civil Code.

“There have been a lot of allegations of substance abuse, especially on behalf of human rights advocates,” he says.

And a February State Department warning urged Americans to avoid traveling to Russia given the risk of arrest.

“Russian security services have arrested US citizens on false charges, denied them fair and transparent treatment, and convicted them without secret trials and/or production of credible evidence,” the warning said.

Prison situation has come under fire

Officials have not said where Griner is kept, and his family has kept quiet about the details of the case. But his arrest drew renewed attention to two other Americans detained in Russia – Paul Whelan and Trevor Reid.

Both the men and their families have denied the charges against them and criticized their treatment in custody.

Former US Marine Whelan was detained in a Moscow hotel in 2018 and arrested on espionage charges, which he has consistently denied. He was convicted in a trial in June 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison, widely deemed unfair by US officials. In a call with CNN in June, Whelan described the dire conditions of the remote labor camp where he spends his days working in a clothing factory he called “the sweetshop” and added, “Here’s to medical care. Very difficult to obtain.”

Reid, a former US Marine detained in Russia since 2019, was sentenced in July 2020 to nine years in prison for endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers, according to state-run news agency TASS . US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan called the trial “theatre of the absurd” following Reid’s 2020 sentencing.

Trevor Reid stands inside a defendant's cage during a 2020 court hearing in Moscow.
In a recent call to his parents from the Russian prison where he is being held, Reid said he was coughing up blood, had intermittent fever and chest pain, according to his father – And the family is worried he has tuberculosis. In a statement on Thursday, Reid’s parents said they were concerned he would be sent to solitary confinement instead of medical care.

Her parents said, “It’s hard to explain how terrified we are to hear her voice today.”

CNN has reached out to the Russian Federal Penal Service for comment.

Nick Daniloff, an American journalist detained in the USSR in 1986, told CNN he had questions about where Griner was being held.

“The Russians captured him and he’s not in communication. … It’s quite possible that he’s being held in a prison like the one where I was taken – an isolation prison,” says Daniloff.

Daniloff, who was imprisoned for weeks under different circumstances while authorities negotiated his release, says he believes his roommate in prison has informed the authorities about his behavior. was tasked to do—and Griner could find himself in a similar situation.

American reporter Nicholas Daniloff wears a T-shirt after being released from custody in Russia in 1986.

Griner must have access to an attorney and consular representatives

Butler says Russian law guarantees Griner access to attorneys and consular representatives.

“The one I understand is the investigator in custody. … He’ll have the right to consult. He’ll have the right to contact the embassy, ​​the U.S. consulate, he’ll have the right to go,” he says.

But a US lawmaker told CNN on Thursday that consular officials had not been able to meet Griner.

“The embassy has requested her consular access … and has been denied for three weeks now. She is in contact with her Russian lawyer, and her Russian lawyer is in contact with her agent and her family back home. So, we know he’s okay,” US Representative Colin Allred, a Texas Democrat, told CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight.”

“We just know that he has now been kept without official government access for three weeks, which is really unusual and extremely worrying,” Allred said.

CNN has contacted Russian officials regarding Griner’s consular access, but has not heard back.

The State Department declined to provide details on the matter, citing confidentiality reasons.

“We are aware of this matter and are closely engaged in this matter,” a State Department spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.

War ‘makes everything more complicated’

It’s pretty clear: Timing is terrible. In the days since Griner’s February detention, Russia has invaded Ukraine, and tensions between Russia and the United States have intensified.

“It’s hard to imagine a more difficult negotiation environment than this,” says CNN counter-terrorism analyst Philip Mudd, who used to work for the CIA. “We have the difficulty of diplomatic negotiations with the Russians, whom we don’t trust, obviously. , along with the fact that we are at war and the Russians do not trust us. I don’t see how it could be any more difficult than this.”

The war in Ukraine “makes everything more complicated,” says Nikolay Marinov, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, and will make Russian officials even more willing to manipulate the situation.

“They will be less forthcoming, and they will be less cooperative, and it may take some time before they are given more official information,” he says.

A trial may be swift, but the appeal may be long

Officials did not say when, or if Griner’s case could be prosecuted. Legal experts told CNN that a trial could happen quickly, but the appeal could be lengthy.

“Usually, where the facts are relatively simple, one expects things to move pretty quickly. They’ve got witnesses from airport experts, they’ve got physical evidence, they’ve got lab reports,” Mags it is said. “It shouldn’t take a lot of time. But then appeals can take all kinds of time.”

US citizen Paul Whelan attends a 1020 sentencing hearing in Moscow City Court.
He points to the recent case of American businessman Michael Calvey, which ended more than two years after he was first taken into custody. Calvey was convicted of embezzlement – a charge he denied.

Maybe ‘off ramp’

Despite the serious charges Griner faces, there may still be an “off ramp,” Butler says: Officers may decide to charge Griner with possession rather than smuggling.

“If they were to decide she made a mistake, she went through the green line instead of the red line (at the airport), failing to declare it, they would treat it as an administrative offense rather than a criminal offence. Could have agreed,” he says. “If they did, they wouldn’t accuse him of smuggling, they would accuse him of … possession. If that was the case, he would have been fined and probably deported.”

Griner, a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist and WNBA star, plays for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason.

But Butler stressed that we still don’t know much about Griner’s case.

Butler says, “It’s very hard to judge from the outside. … In this case we really know surprisingly little about the actual facts and what has happened since we were taken into custody.”

A prisoner swap may be possible

In the past, when Americans have been detained in Russia and other countries, their release has been negotiated as part of a prisoner swap.

“In my case, the FBI arrested a Soviet in New York on espionage charges, and then the Russians arrested me. I was coming to the end of my assignment in Moscow (working for US News and World Report). had been), and … a conversation eventually took place that included my release, including a solution for the man who had been arrested in New York, and some other elements came into play as well,” Daniloff recalls.

At the time, Daniloff credited President Reagan for pushing for his release.

“It was a very complicated situation, and if it weren’t for President Reagan to take a very deep and personal interest in my case, maybe a few years ago I would have stood up to you and said, ‘Thank you, Mr President,’ Daniloff said at a news conference next to Reagan after he was released in 1986.

US reporter Nicholas Daniloff stands with President Ronald Reagan after his release from custody in Russia.

Could a similar deal be done for Reid, Whelan and Griner?

“The question is whether we have enough to do business for three Americans. But a deal is a deal, and Putin is going to be ready to make a deal,” Mudd says. “If we have the Russians doing what they want, I don’t see why it’s worth avoiding talks because we’re at war.”

Marinov says Griner’s case is just one small piece in the bigger geopolitical picture. But there’s no doubt, he says, that Russian officials are looking at how to use it to their advantage.

“I bet they have 10 plans at the moment on how they can take advantage of this, and what kind of spin they can put in – how much maximum profit they can get,” he says.

He says that matters like Griner’s have already been resolved through talks.

But how long this case may take, he says, is another unanswered question.

CNN’s Rosa Flores, Brian Todd, Lucy Kafanov, Holly Yan, Travis Caldwell and Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.

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