Brittney Griner 'Devastated' After Russian Court Sentences Her to 9 Years in Prison, Lawyers Say

Griner’s lawyers plan to appeal the ruling, which they said was nearly double the typical sentence for drug possession

Brittney Griner is "devastated," her lawyers tell PEOPLE, after a Russian court sentenced her to nine years in prison on charges of smuggling drugs into the country.

In an interview Thursday, Griner's lawyers — Maria Blagovolina, a partner at Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners, and Alexander Boykov, from the Moscow Legal Center — said that the nine-year sentence was nearly double what they were expecting, and difficult for the 31-year-old WNBA star to take in.

"She's devastated. She is very upset and she's honestly quite shocked, so she needs to digest what happened today," Blagovolina says.

Griner has not yet been able to speak with her wife, Cherelle, or any friends or family since the ruling, Blagovolina says, but she does "have permission" to do so and they "hopefully will be able to set up the call next week."

Griner, who had pled guilty to bringing less than 1 gram of cannabis oil into Russia, said during closing arguments earlier Thursday that she "had no intents to break any Russian laws." Griner and her lawyers had also tried to establish that she had a prescription in the United States to use medical marijuana, and argued that she was not properly informed of her rights when she was arrested at the Moscow airport in February.

For more on Brittney Griner, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

A Russian court dismissed her request for leniency in their sentence, which is just below the maximum sentence for drug possession of 10 years. Blagovolina says this type of criminal court is usually "not so severe," and typically gives people five-and-a-half or six-year sentences.

Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner holds images standing in a cage at a court room prior to a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, . American basketball star Brittney Griner has returned to a Russian courtroom for her drawn-out trial on drug charges that could bring her 10 years in prison if convicted Russia Griner, Moscow, Russian Federation - 26 Jul 2022
Brittney Griner holds up photos from inside a cage in the courtroom. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/Shutterstock

"So nine years, it's pretty unusual and it contradicts the existing court practice in Russia," she says. "That's why we are really disappointed and very much surprised by this decision of the court."

Blagovolina and Boykov now have 10 days to file an appeal to the ruling, which they intend to do by the end of next week. Boykov says, though, that the appeal process could "take a month or two or more than three. It's not very fast."

They don't know if it will change Griner's sentence, but Blagovolina says that "as a legal team, we need to do [the] maximum to get a shorter term. We need to use every legal opportunity that we have, and [an] appeal is one of those opportunities."

The hope, though, is that the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. State Department and Russia to release Griner as part of a prisoner exchange with Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in the country, will be successful and get her home sooner.

When Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the potential exchange last Wednesday, Griner "was quite happy to know that she had not been forgotten and that there are some possible developments," Blagovolina says.

"But she's quite realistic about what's going on," she adds.

Related Articles