Federal Panel Rejects David Kernell's Appeal of Obstruction-of-Justice Charge



David Kernell
  • David Kernell
A federal appeals court in Knoxville has upheld an obstruction-of-justice verdict against David Kernell, the former University of Tennessee student who was convicted of two counts in connection with hacking then vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s personal email account in 2008.

Kernell, the son of longtime Tennessee state Representative Mike Kernell (D-Memphis), had appealed the obstruction-of-justice conviction, a felony, but not the other verdict, which pertained to his unauthorized access of electronic information belonging to Palin and had the status of a misdemeanor.

A Knoxville jury had convicted Kernell of the two charges in April. The jury deadlocked on a charge that Kernell had committed identity theft and acquitted him on a charge of wire fraud. Kernell was released from prison after serving less than all months for his two convictions.

The appeal of the obstruction-of-justice charge, which was heard by a three-judge panel, was based on Kernell’s claims that the portion of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act under which he was convicted was “unconstitutionally vague” and that there had been insufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. While granting Kernell standing to make the appeal, it rejected his claims.

The judges’ opinion sets forth in some details the means by which Kernell was able to hack Palin’s email account — essentially by guessing the answer to some identity questions and securing thereby the right to change her password so as to access it and later to publish some of the contents online.

The opinion also details the steps taken by Kernell to fend off possible investigation by the FBI, and it was these which resulted in his conviction of the obstruction-of-justice charge and in the rejection of his appeal.

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