Should a Victim’s Public Figure Status Count in Sentencing?


On April 30, 2010, David Kernell, son of a Democratic Tennessee lawmaker, was found guilty by a federal jury of obstruction of justice and unauthorized access to a computer for hacking into then-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! e-mail account. Kernell was acquitted on a charge of wire fraud, and the jury deadlocked on a charge of identity theft, which prosecutors reserved the right to retry.

Attorneys for the 22-year-old college student maintained that the hack was merely a college prank. In fact, after posting snapshots of the contents of Palin’s e-mail and personal information online, Kernell admitted that the hack was relatively simple. By his account, the hack involved a simple reset of Palin’s password using her date of birth, zip code and personal information obtained through a Google search to answer the security question to her Yahoo! account. When Kernell learned of a possible FBI investigation into his behavior, he deleted the records and documents that pointed to him. Kernell now faces up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge alone, which is a felony. The misdemeanor count of unauthorized access to a computer is punishable by up to one year in jail. A sentencing date has not been set.

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