Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stolen Valor Act Update

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case questioning the constitutionality a 2006 law that makes it a criminal offense to lie about being decorated for military service. The court said Monday that it will hear the case of Xavier Alvarez. While running for election in 2007 to a seat on a local water board in California, Alvarez claimed that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor while serving in the Marine Corps. He later admitted that he was never in the military.

The government prosecuted him and he pleaded guilty, faced a fine of $5,000 and was ordered to perform 416 hours of community service. Alvarez appealed the conviction, claiming the Stolen Valor Act violates his freedom of speech. He won, and that ruling was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California, which essentially ruled that people have a right to lie about being in the military.

The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to hear the case and consider reinstating Alvarez’s conviction, and affirming the law’s constitutionality. The Supreme Court may hear the case during its upcoming term, which would lead to an oral argument in the spring and a ruling by June.

Lawyers for a California man who pleaded guilty to lying about getting a military medal are arguing that falsehoods sometimes have value. The case is one of two that are challenging the federal Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to falsely claim to be a war hero.

In California, Xavier Alvarez of Pomona pleaded guilty to falsely claiming he was awarded the Medal of Honor, but he also challenged the constitutionality of the law. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court sided with him and ruled the law violated the 1st Amendment. Prosecutors asked the full court to review the ruling, but the court hasn’t said whether it will. Alvarez’s lawyers filed documents last week arguing against another review.

They cite John Milton, a 17th century writer, and John Stuart Mill, a 19th century philosopher, to argue that falsehoods can improve public debate by spurring the search for truth. They also said the three-judge panel’s ruling was clear, that some lies are protected by the 1st Amendment and that Alvarez’s false claim to have a medal posed no clear and present danger.

The other challenge is in Colorado. A federal court in Denver ruled the law is unconstitutional, and prosecutors say they will appeal.

For updates and more information go to Stolen Valor and the team that goes after people lying about being patriots or heroes, click here:

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