Everything to Know Before Brittney Griner's Trial Begins in Russia

The WNBA star is set to stand trial on July 1 after being detained in Russia since February 17

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury poses for a portrait during the WNBA Media Day on May 6, 2021, at Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.
Brittney Griner. Photo: Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty

After more than four months in custody, WNBA star Brittney Griner's trial is set to begin Friday in Russia.

Griner, 31, is a two-time Olympic medalist and seven-time WNBA All-Star currently on the Phoenix Mercury roster. She was arrested on February 17 at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow, according to original reports from The New York Times.

Russian Federal Customs Service allege that Griner was in possession of vape cartridges containing hash oil while traveling through the airport.

Here's what to know about her case as the trial begins.

Why was Griner in Russia?

The Phoenix Mercury player had been in Russia prior to her arrest to compete for multiple teams overseas in between the WNBA season, which runs through the summer. Players Association president, Nneka Ogwumike, said Griner previously played in Russia for four years, Poland for one year and China for two years, explaining, "We go over there to supplement our income," during an appearance on Good Morning America.

What will the trial entail?

Griner will remain in custody until hearings are complete, her lawyer Alexander Boykov told The New York Times.

On Monday, Griner was seen handcuffed walking into her preliminary hearing, where the Russian court informed her of the July 1 trial date.

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Brittney Griner
Brittany Griner in Russian court on June 27. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty

The expected length of Griner's trial is unknown.

According to ESPN, Tom Firestone, former resident legal adviser to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said, "A trial there is not a trial in the U.S. sense — opening statements, jury selection, 'call your first witness' — none of that."

Firestone told the outlet he expects that Griner will be placed inside a steel-barred cage for the duration of the trial, which could last anywhere from days to months.

Griner's family will not be at the trial, according to Firestone. However, U.S. Embassy officials are "expected to attend" the July 1 court date.

What could happen to Griner?

The Washington Post reported that Griner could face up to 10 years if she is convicted. Her case is now being overseen by the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, a state department office that focuses on releasing wrongfully detained Americans.

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Political commentator and ESPN correspondent Angela Rye appeared on a June episode of the PEOPLE Every Day podcast, where she told PEOPLE editor-at-large Janine Rubenstein that the Russian justice system has a "very, very high conviction rate."

Rye added that she would "even go so far as to say that once someone is arrested, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be a conviction and they will be sentenced."

"It's time for the American public to rise up in defense of Brittney," said Rye, who added that "nearly 300,000 people have signed onto a petition to bring [Griner] back home."

What has been done to try to bring Griner home?

In May, the U.S. State Department classified Griner's arrest as wrongful detainment. "The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. "The U.S. Government will continue to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner and her family."

The WNBA has also worked to keep Griner's case at the forefront of their media attention this season, including naming her an honorary All-Star this season and incorporating the #WeAreBG hashtag wherever possible.

Cherelle Griner, who married the WNBA star in June 2019, told Al Sharpton on Wednesday that her wife is "struggling," ahead of her trial date. "She's human. She's there terrified, she's there alone."

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 08: Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury kisses her wife Cherelle Griner in the stands after the Mercury defeated the Las Vegas Aces 87-84 in Game Five of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs semifinals to win the series at Michelob ULTRA Arena on October 8, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Cherelle and Brittney Griner. Ethan Miller/Getty

Cherelle, who graduated from law school in May, added that she believes her wife isn't fully expressing her fears ahead of the trial. "Because I'm her person she will always try and write persuasively to make sure I don't break because she knows I'm studying for my bar and she knows I have all these things going on and she's trying to always be my strong person.

Friends and family of Griner's, including colleagues around the NBA and WNBA, have called for closer media coverage of her situation.

"We need that public pressure to let them know that Brittney matters," Cherelle said.

"We're never going to shut up about this until she's back; we're never going to allow them to take their precious time. We need to apply as much public pressure on our government as possible to move swiftly," she added.

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