In somewhat dated news, the Denver Post reports here that a Colorado judge last week ruled that the Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional in US v. Strandlof.  The Denver Post stated that

A federal judge in Denver has ruled that the Stolen Valor Act is “facially unconstitutional” because it violates free speech, and he dismissed the criminal case against Rick Strandlof, a man who lied about being an Iraq war veteran.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn issued his decision Friday [July 16] and rejected the prosecution’s argument that lying about having military medals dilutes their meaning and significance.

“This wholly unsubstantiated assertion is, frankly, shocking and, indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor,” Blackburn wrote. “To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension.”

I guess the judge thinks that the military is different and Art. 134, paragraph 113 is one of those uniquely military offenses, though it isn’t discussed in the opinion.  See decision here, Volokh Conspiracy commentary here, and Eugene Volokh’s amicus brief supporting the Act here.

14 Responses to “Stolen Valor Act Ruled Unconstitutional”

  1. Anonymous says:

    while despicable, seems to me if folks want to lie about it, it’s no different legally than lying about any other award, honor, or qualification.

    Now, if they are lying about it to gain some sort of material advantage to the detriment of someone else (say a scholarship limited only to purple heart recipients) then that’s another thing but such conduct is covered by plain old fraud. The statute involved doesn’t even talk about fraud, doesn’t (as the judge noted) require a showing of harm on the listener or any evidence of fraud, just criminalizes the speech of falsely claiming to have a badge/award. That is just too broad.

    The military is different, we don’t have the same 1st Amendment rights and there is the whole PGOD/SD thing of 134.

    I’m not persuaded by Volokh’s argument at all. “They are thus trying to manipulate people’s behavior through falsehood, and their false claims are quite likely to indeed affect others’ behavior.”

    Well if that’s the standard for criminalizing lies about one’s accomplishments then let’s do it for education level, schools attended, income level, and ahem…measurements.

  2. soonergrunt says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t have any use for fakers, but I suppose as long as somebody doesn’t use lies like this to defraud someone, then there are other issues more worthy of Law Enforcement’s time.

  3. Late Bloomer says:

    “To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension.”

    His Honor might be surprised. After 7 years of kinetic conflict, there are a large number of seasoned veterans with the hardware to prove it. My admittedly brief experience in the theater of operations led me to believe that there are at least some young service members who are indeed motivated by their desire to “join the club.”

    soonergrunt, perhaps you have some insights on this phenomenon?

  4. medal of honor winner says:

    Having won several medals of honor myself, I must say: If we didn’t think medals motivated soldiers, then we wouldn’t award them.

  5. Charles Gittins says:

    I think the Judge got it right. Fakers eventually get exposed and in the process are humiliated and exposed as liars. Wasting criminal prosecution funds for people who lie about their service is a waste of time IMO. Prosecuting resume fraud would be a better use for taxpayer funds because it is rampant and actually does perpetrate a fraud on the employer.

  6. soonergrunt says:

    Well, in my experience, some young Soldiers are likely to others about what they’ve done or didn’t do. Not so much with other Soldiers as with civilians. “War is hell” from the 92A supply guy at the airport bar, and so on.
    I’ve met a few guys who claimed to be Special Forces and such in Viet Nam, but only one guy so far who claimed to be an Iraq vet who wasn’t a servicemember. I’m sure if he pretended to be an Air Force bomb hanger I never would’ve caught on, but who claims to be that?
    I guess it has a lot to do with men feeling guilty because they didn’t do their “duty” in a lot of cases. Our society still puts a high value on wartime service even though the military is all volunteer and has been for most of my life. For some reason, combat vets are accorded more authority when speaking about defense matters, when most of us don’t know anything about the world outside our little slice of it. Of course, for politicians, claiming that status is a short cut to having various assumptions made about one’s honor and integrity and drive for public service. I’m proud of my service but I think society has some misplaced priorities when that matters more than the honor, integrity, and public service involved in say, teaching elementary school. But that’s just me.
    Side note–I joined the VFW. I don’t go much because there’s not a lot of guys my age there, but I do go from time to time because the beer is cheap and the company is mostly enjoyable. One of the guys who hangs out there was a Clerk/Typist who did two tours in Viet Nam. He says straight out that he worked in A/C, had a room to himself, and never fired a weapon the whole time of either tour. I told him I had to buy him a beer because he was the ONLY guy I’ve ever met who was a clerk in a war zone and with the way the Army runs on paper he must have been the busiest mother’s son on the face of the planet, processing all of those Silver Stars and Bronze Stars and such for the “SF guys” I met.

  7. W says:

    I’m not sure I agree. While some fakers may just be amusing fellow patrons at a bar – others have insinuated themselves into military funerals, giving speeches to high school students, etc. And we’re not talking about Achievement Medals here – these guys wear the Navy Cross, and the Medal of Honor, and the Purple Heart. They have the potential to influence minds and they garner support they would not otherwise deserve. I think it wholly appropriate for a state to hold the recognitions earned by our citizen soldiers sacrosanct.

    I think the judge also misses the point on why these medals exist. Folks don’t take action in order to gain the medals – the medals instead reflect a record of action that deserves public recognition. But only for those who have truly acted…

  8. John O'Connor says:

    That seems like a credible policy argument, one that Congress would have every right to consider.

  9. Charles Gittins says:

    I think the legal distinction between wearing medals you are not entitled to wear and “saying” you are entitled to or were awarded is significant. The accused does not appear to have been charged with “wearing” medals he was not entitled to — just saying he was entitled to them. Since the law makes it illegal (save for collectors) to possess mendals that you are not entitled to or to wear them, I think the concern about frauds wearing the medals at funerals, etc., can be addressed through prosecution of those who violate the non-peech provisions of the Act, which still are intact. I see a difference between prosecuting a blowhard wannabe and the type guy who takes the next step and puts on the uniform (which he may or may not rate) and the medals he does not rate. The latter deserves prosecution; the former can be dealt with by alling him out and embarrassing him publicly.

  10. Dunna says:

    I am not sure what all this debate is about, I am not in with prosecuting people for speech crdible or otherwise.

    However, People who put on a military uniform or medal they don’t warrant would be summarily shot if I had my way period.

    Enough said!

  11. soonergrunt says:

    Wouldn’t wearing the uniform itself be a crime? Isn’t it illegal to pretend to be an officer or agent of the US government? Or am I reading that too broadly?

  12. Proud Vet says:

    “Medal of Honor winner” is someone who will benefit from this. He says he won several medal of honors, I say BS! No one has ever “won” any of these because they are awarded. No one who has one of these would say that. Also, most (except for 19 people, ever) people who earn these only earn one. This is earned by such a little amount of people it is usually national news. Alot were awarded during the civil war, alot are awarded posthumous. Why do you have to lie about your accomplishments online, loser

  13. Anonymous says:

    It was a joke. And a funny one at that.

  14. Anonymous says:

    This was meant to be a reply to “Proud Vet” on August 4.