Legal Expert Offers Troubling Theory For Brittney Griner's Nine-Year Prison Sentence - Exclusive

Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison following her arrest in the country for illegal drug possession in February. According to CNN, the WNBA player was also ordered to pay a fine of $16,400. In a written statement released after the verdict, Griner's attorneys called the court's decision "absolutely unreasonable" and vowed to continue fighting for the athlete's freedom.

"This contradicts the existing legal practice," attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov wrote. "Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal."

Griner's sentencing may have come as a shock to some, as it was recently revealed that the United States government had proposed a deal to secure Griner's release. Per NBC, the Biden administration made a "substantial" offer that would see Griner, along with Paul Whelan, released in exchange for convicted weapons dealer Viktor Bout. Now, a legal expert offers an alarming theory about the Phoenix Mercury star's sentencing.

Brittney Griner's sentence could give Russia 'greater leverage'

News of an impending trade with Russia for the release of Brittney Griner, came with an unfortunate catch. Per ESPN, the exchange — which could secure Griner's release — would likely not happen until after her sentencing. Now that the athlete has been dealt the nine-year ruling, a legal expert says the move may have been strategic.

"This absolutely gives Russians more leverage," former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani tells Nicki Swift exclusively. "The longer sentence puts more pressure on the Biden administration, and we've seen that the Russians have no issue with waiting out the Secretary of State." Rahmani, who currently serves as President of West Coast Trial Lawyers, explains that these types of prisoner exchanges are generally criticized by Americans because it may incite further hostage situations. Instead, "What Russia is trying to do is to impose almost the maximum sentence on Griner to put pressure on Biden and the State Dept. to move forward with the trade," Rahmani noted. "But by all accounts Americans have made the proposal, and my understanding is Russia has not yet responded." 

Rahmani believes that Russia may have been waiting until after Griner was sentenced "in order to have greater leverage." Meanwhile, Griner's teammates and fans have taken to social media to share their support for the athlete. Phoenix Mercury player Brianna Turner wrote, "Thinking of BG and how much light she relentlessly brought to everyone around her." A fan tweeted, "Brittney Griner does not deserve this."

Discussions about a prisoner swap have ramped up since Brittney Griner's sentencing

One day after Brittney Griner's sentencing, the Russian government announced it was willing to discuss a prisoner swap in further detail with United States officials.

According to CBS News, despite the animosity between the two nations, there seemed to be a possible common ground on the swap that the two nations could come to an agreement on — though what the common ground is has yet to become public knowledge. During a recent press conference, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Russian government is "ready to discuss this subject." However, conversations regarding the exchange will be conducted between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden only, Russian officials stated. "There is a special channel established by the presidents and despite certain public declarations, it is still functional," Lavrov said. 

Following Russia's expressed willingness to trade, the United States has reportedly been in touch with Lavrov to discuss the country's participation in further discussions — with President Biden saying he is "hopeful" for Griner's return, according to Reuters. Yet, while both nations have begun communicating regarding Griner's release, there is no word on how those conversations will impact Griner until there's a final decision. Until then, Griner will continue to serve out her prison sentence.

What's Brittney Griner's life like in Russian prison?

Until discussions between the United States and Russia regarding the Brittney Griner prisoner swap are further along, Griner will continue her stay in a Russian penal colony.

The penal colony to which Griner was sentenced consists of different units that have 40 to 60 women living together, per People. But, with 35 different penal colonies across Russia, what happens and how the prisoners are treated depends on the leaders of each colony. Sources close to Griner's situation would not reveal which colony Griner is in or how lenient her colony is, according to the outlet. But, despite the situation, there's a small silver lining for Griner. While living in the colonies, one day actually counts as two days, shortening her overall sentence.

"She is likely to stay there for the time of her appeal, which might be up to three months if she isn't pardoned and exchanged before then," Ivan Melnikov, the vice president of the Russian Department of the International Human Rights Defense Committee, told People. "But if her appeal fails, she might be sent on to another colony." While the prisoners are given a certain amount of time each day to do what they want, for Griner, it's possible that time only leads to more thoughts about the future. As Griner's lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told People, the WNBA star seems "quite happy to know that she's not been forgotten... But she's quite realistic about what's going on."