In America, the judicial system views defendants as being innocent until proven guilty. Russia reverses that rule. In their country, they view you as guilty from the get-go which is why Brittney Griner was in a terrible fix as soon as she was arrested.
Griner is the WNBA star who was caught with small amounts of hashish oil packed in her luggage as she tried to leave Russia after playing basketball. Recognizing the value of arresting a high-profile athlete, the Russians took her into custody and she has been there now for almost five months.
They got around to conducting a trial a couple of weeks ago and Griner saved them the trouble of a verdict by pleading guilty, explaining that rushing to pack for the trip, she accidentally included a substance she should have left at home.
This felony carries a 10-year sentence, which seems excessive. Appeals are allowed but rarely are verdicts reversed. That’s the way it goes in Putin’s Russia. All of this explains why Griner wrote a letter to President Biden begging him not to forget her and other American detainees and confessing that she is “terrified I might be here forever.’’
Griner is too valuable an asset to keep locked away. She almost certainly will be part of a prisoner exchange when Russia sees fit. But until then, you can understand how devastating her situation must be to an individual who has been a star, routinely celebrated in the United States.
The question is how long the Russians choose to play this out. For a while America chose not to make a fuss about Griner’s situation, preferring back channel talks. When that went nowhere, the WNBA sounded off and Griner’s name was all over the league’s All-Star Game in Chicago.
President Biden has assured Griner’s wife that the country is doing its best to win her release. But the Russians can be stubborn about this sort of thing. And only when they decide they’ve gotten the most out of detaining Griner will they release her. There is no telling when that will happen. In the meantime, she remains in jail, handcuffed for court appearances and frankly terrified.
And all of this happened because she was in a hurry to get out of Russia and packed the wrong stuff in her luggage. She will be more careful next time.
If there is a next time.