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Palin e-mail hack trial starts today

Expect a media circus with a political sideshow

By Paul McNamara on Tue, 04/20/10 - 8:36am.

The former college student who in 2008 allegedly hacked into a Yahoo e-mail account used by Sarah Palin -- then governor of Alaska and Republican vice presidential candidate -- goes on trial today in Tennessee and of this much you can be certain: The case will be more of a media and political circus than groundbreaking legal proceeding.

Especially since Palin herself is expected to testify.

In the hot seat will be 22-year-old David Kernell, who was a student at the University of Tennessee when he is alleged to have accessed Palin's account, changed her password, and set the new one free on the Internet, thus ensuring that the governor's e-mail and photographs - most personal, but some job-related - would spread like juicy office gossip.

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Kernell got caught, and, because the allegedlys and allegeds you've seen here so far are journalistic formalities, the key question arising from the trial will be whether his attorney can convince jurors to view the matter as more prank than crime. Prosecutors do not appear to be of a like mind. 

From an Associated Press story:

Convictions on all four felony charges - identity theft, wire fraud, intentionally accessing Palin's e-mail account without authorization and obstructing an FBI investigation - could send Kernell to prison for up to 50 years.

"If I was the individual being charged I would be concerned, particularly the other party," East Tennessee State University political analyst David Briley said. "Politics and religion are pretty close to the vest here."

Translation: Kernell is the son of a longtime Democratic lawmaker in a state that is red enough to have helped deny native son Al Gore the presidency in 2000.

Personally, I am confident that the system will identify 12 Tennesseans capable of granting both Kernell and the state a fair and apolitical day in court. I'm also confident that the mainstream media will find that a much more difficult task.

As for the trial itself, with "I didn't do it" apparently not available as a defense, Kernell's attorney has been grasping at technicalities (a.k.a. our legal rights) in an attempt to shake his client free or at the very least minimize the seriousness of his offense.

A challenge of the warrant that led to Kernell's arrest was denied.

A pre-trial motion contending that Palin's e-mail address and password could not constitute her "identity" for purposes of identity theft, because anyone could register any name they want online, was also rejected.

So, too, was a request that potential jurors be questioned regarding any strong opinions they may hold regarding Palin (and who doesn't have those?).

Presuming there isn't a mid-trial plea bargain and prosecutors succeed in getting at least some kind of charge to stick, the question becomes what constitutes fair punishment.

I'm thinking 50 years in the slammer is a bit harsh. So, too, is requiring Kernell to carry a felony conviction for the rest of his life over even a criminally stupid stunt like this. No, I'm thinking prosecutors should see clear to negotiate a misdemeanor, a weekend or two behind bars (at most) and a fine that will have Kernell wishing he had to pay off student loans instead.

My prediction: Prosecutors are going to go for the throat.

Let the circus begin.

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