WNBA all-star, Brittney Griner, remains charged with the illegal transportation of drugs in Russia. Her trial on these alleged illegal drug charges (accused of smuggling vape cartridges with hashish oil) into Russia began last week. The details of how much Griner was allegedly carrying remain unknown but this offense in that country, carries with it a ten (10) year prison sentence.
How long could Griner spend in prison?
While legal experts (not sure if they’re criminal defense lawyer or prosecutors) have alleged that the Russian proceeding are a “show trial”; Griner would have few, if any, real defenses to these criminal charges under the U.S. constitution either! It appears that the issue is with the potential sentence Griner could receive from the Russian Court system. This is sadly Griner’s own fault or the fault of her legal advisors. She was either poorly advised or simply assumed that the laws and potential punishments were similar to those in the United States. U.S. officials should not have an issue with the arrest. Like in the United States, Griner didn’t have the right against illegal search and seizure at the airport in Russia.
Griner has remained in custody in Russia since February 17th, when she was stopped at the airport with the alleged substance. The alleged vape cartridges were found in her luggage by custom officials at the airport. She is expected to plead guilty but the Russian legal system requires defendants to serve one-half (5 years minimum) to two-thirds of the maximum sentence of ten (10) years.
The airport search of Griner’s luggage was legal….even in the US
Griner was stopped at the airport and not the even the U.S. justice system provides the right against illegal search and seizure for most airport searches. In many illegal narcotic cases, a motion to Suppress evidence based on a person’s constitutional right against illegal search and seizure is the best defense tool!
To have a “search” under the meaning of the 4th Amendment, a person must have “reasonable expectation of privacy”. The expectation of privacy, however, differs depending on the situation. Commercial passengers, like Brittney Griner also have less of an expectation of privacy. Passengers must surrender certain constitutional rights to exercise the right to ride on an airplane or any commercial means of transportation.
For security purposes, the U.S. government has a “compelling interest” to perform administrative searches of individuals that may otherwise be unconstitutional in other settings, such as a person’s home, place of business or in their personal vehicle.
With that said, a government is able to perform administrative searches of law-abiding citizens and other passengers which would otherwise be deemed unconstitutional any place else in the country. Under federal law, all passengers must submit to a search of their belongings and their person. In addition, all commercial passengers are subject to “for cause searches”.
Marijuana and Drugs in Russia
Unlike the U.S., Russia has some of the toughest narcotic laws in the world. Russia imprisons more people per capita for drug crimes than the rest of Europe. In addition, marijuana remains illegal for recreational and medical purposes, unlike the U.S. States, where is has been widely decriminalized and in some cases legalized as in states like New Jersey.
While there is no indication of the exact amount that Griner had allegedly in possession at the time of her arrest, Russian law indicates that less than six (6) grams of marijuana is punishable by fifteen (15) days of detention. At this point, Griner has been in custody since February 17th, so it appears that the amount she allegedly had in her possession was well over that amount.
Six (6) grams or more of marijuana (cannabis) is considered a large amount and more than a hundred (100) grams is considered “and exceptional large amount”. Anything over six (6) grams in Russia can result in a long prison sentence. While anything less than six (6) grams is more or less a fine and a short-term jail sentence. Russia does not permit medical marijuana and it is unlikely that this will change anytime soon.
Can the U.S. make a deal?
Yes. There are definitely things that the Biden Administration can do to get Griner home to her family. It appears that Russian authorities would be open to the possibility of trading Griner for a Russian national currently incarcerated in the United States. This person, however, is Viktor Bout, and the U.S. government has yet to engage in these negotiations as Bout is a notorious convicted arms dealer. This type of negotiation is likely Griner’s only way out of this situation and it is unlikely that she has a strong defense
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