A federal appeals court will not overturn the conviction of a 24-year-old found guilty last year of illegally accessing the personal email account of Sarah Palin while she was a vice presidential candidate.
David Kernell, who is free from jail after serving time at a federal prison camp in Kentucky, lost his appeal to have one of his convictions, for obstruction of justice, thrown out. He did not file an appeal against the other count under which he was found guilty, for the unauthorized access of electronic information.
Kernell, the son of Mike Kernell, a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, was convicted of the two charges by a Knoxville jury in April.
He was a 20-year-old economics student at the University of Tennessee in 2008 when he hacked his way past security questions to access then-Alaska Gov. Palin’s personal email account. He gained access by providing Palin’s birth date and ZIP code to Yahoo’s password retrieval system. At that time, she had been recently recruited to run as vice president in the 2008 presidential bid of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Once Kernell got into Palin’s personal account, he published messages from it. Subsequently, anticipating an FBI investigation, he attempted to disguise his activities by deleting evidence from his computer, which resulted in the obstruction-of-justice charge. Despite deleting his web browser’s cache and defragmenting his hard drive, the FBI still found a connection to Palin’s email account, including a letter he posted to the message board 4chan touting his hack, according to court documents.
Kernell’s lawyers argued to a three-judge appeals panel that the portion of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act under which he was convicted was “unconstitutionally vague,” and that it was unconstitutional to convict someone for obstruction of justice before an investigation was initiated, according to court documents.
The panel ruled on Monday, however, that Kernell’s acknowledging online that he anticipated an investigation supported the conviction.
“Kernell expressly states [posting on 4chan] that he deleted the information on his computer out of a fear that the FBI would find it, plainly showing that he took his actions with the intent to hinder an investigation,” according to the judges’ ruling.
Kernell’s attorney, Wade Davies, has said Kernell’s access of Palin’s account was merely a prank, according to reports. Davies could not be reached for comment.