Palin Email Hacker Gets One Year In Custody

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 16, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The judge in the Sarah Palin email hacker case has proved to have the wisdom of Solomon. U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips' sentence navigated a middle course between the prosecution's and defense's request. The judge sentenced 22-year-old David Kernell to a year and a day in custody and three years probation. Judge Phillips also recommended a halfway house instead of prison. Both the prosecution and the defendant's father support the sentence.

As discussed in a prior post, David Kernell was a former University of Tennessee student who hacked into Governor Palin's email account during the 2008 campaign. He somehow guessed the answers to Palin's "security" questions and gained access to the account. According to the Associated Press, Palin and her daughter Bristol testified at trial that Kernell had given out a password and Palin family telephone numbers to others, which caused them emotional hardship.

Last spring, the Palin email hacker jury convicted Kernell of unauthorized access to a protected computer and destroying records to impede a federal investigation. He was acquitted of charges of wire fraud and jurors were deadlocked on an identity theft charge.

Judge Phillips also recommended counseling after hearing defense attorneys' statements that Kernell has struggled with depression since he was young. During sentencing, reports the AP, defense attorney Wade Davies told the court that "Kernell's development doesn't necessarily correspond with other people who were born the same year he was." The attorney said an evaluation showed that Kernell was "trying to make adult decisions from a child's perspective."

Taking the federal sentencing guidelines into account, the range for Kernell was 15 months to 21 months. Under the guidelines, a judge uses a formula that calculates an offense level based on factors such as the nature of the crime, injuries to victims, and the defendant's criminal history. This calculation results in a certain number of points, which gives a range of prison time. The AP reports that the Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision whether to accept the judge's recommendation that Kernell be sent to the Midway Rehabilitation Center. The Bureau usually follows a judge's recommendation, but is not required to.

As difficult as it may have been for David Kernell to make the adult decisions that would have prevented him from landing in a criminal trial, he did know how to do one adult thing that many, many others of late have not been able to do: apologize.

"I am not going to make any kind of excuses," he said during the sentencing hearing. "I'd like to apologize to the Palin family."

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