Judge in Sarah Palin e-mail hacking case denies motion challenging computer search

David Kernell's Fourth Amendment rights not violated by search, judge says

Student David Kernell.

Student David Kernell.

FBI agents did not violate alleged hacker David Kernell's Fourth Amendment rights when they searched through the entire contents of his computer in connection with their investigation, a federal magistrate judge ruled this week in the Sarah Palin e-mail hacking case .

In a 41-page ruling this week, Judge Clifford Shirley in Knoxville denied Kernell's motions to quash the information gathered from those searches and said that no unreasonable search or seizure had taken place, as Kernell had claimed.

In throwing out Kernell's motion to quash, Judge Shirley noted that numerous courts have previously ruled it unnecessary for warrants authorizing the search of a computer, to have language specifying how the search should be conducted.

"Contrary to Defendant's argument, [the executing officer] seized all of the computer equipment, not each individual file," the judge noted. "This was proper because all of the computer equipment and storage devices were within the scope of the search warrant."

The agent conducting the search acted reasonably and "his examination of each file on Defendant's computers and storage media was reasonable and necessary," the judge said.

Kernell, 22, is alleged to have broken into then Governor Sarah Palin's Yahoo e-mail account in Sept. 2008, when she was Sen. John McCain's running mate in the presidential elections. He is then alleged to have publicly posted screen shots of several messages from her account.

Kernell was initially charged in October 2008, with a single county of felony unauthorized access of a computer. In Feb 2009, Kernell was charged with identity theft, wire fraud, computer fraud and anticipatory obstruction of justice in a four-count superseding indictment.

Kernell, a University of Tennessee-Knoxville student at the time of the incident, is the son of a Democratic state legislator from Memphis. After his indictment, Kernell has filed several motions challenging various aspects of the case against him.

In his motion to suppress the information gathered from the computer searches, Kernell claimed that the government agents had exceeded the scope of the warrant by searching the entire contents of the computer.

He claimed that the searches of his computer were in violation of Fourth Amendment protections and a particular provision in the Federal Rules of Criminal procedure. Kernell argued that agents should have carried out a "particularized search" for the specific information they were looking for, rather than the broad search that was conducted.

The government for its part responded by claiming that the seizure and search of Kernell's laptop was constitutional. They argued that Fourth Amendment protections do not require search warrants to specify the precise manner in which searches should be carried out.

Judge Shirley's ruling on the matter is the latest pre-trial setback for Kernell. Last week, the judge denied another motion by Kernell seeking to quash a search warrant for ISP records from Yahoo, which is based in California.

Kernell had challenged the authority of a court in Tennessee to issue a search warrant for an entity based in California. Prior to that ruling, the judge had issued another ruling which basically allows the government obstruction of justice charge against Kernell to stand.

Kernell is currently out on bond. His trial is scheduled to begin later this month.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments



Sansai 6-Outlet Power Board + 4-Port USB Charging Station

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?