The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in on the Stolen Valor Act on Friday, less than a month before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in U.S. v. Alvarez.
In a lengthy, split decision, the Denver-based court upheld the Act, which criminalizes false claims about military honors.
Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act in 2006 in an attempt to protect true military heroes' accomplishments from being cheapened by G.I. Joe imposters. The law punishes false claims of military valor with up to a year in prison.
In 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that free speech rights covered liars, and that the law was unconstitutional.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with the notion that false statements are generally protected by the First Amendment, finding "false statements of fact do not enjoy constitutional protection, except to the extent necessary to protect more valuable speech. Under this principle, the Stolen Valor Act does not impinge on or chill protected speech, and therefore does not offend the First Amendment," reports The Washington Post.
Despite never having served in the military, the defendant at the center of this case, Rick Strandlof, founded the Colorado Veterans Alliance. He frequently told veterans he graduated from the United States Naval Academy, was a former U.S. Marine Corps Captain, and had been wounded in combat in Iraq. He further claimed that he had received the Purple Heart, which is given to soldiers wounded or killed in action, and the Silver Star, which is awarded for gallantry in battle.
Local veterans, who were unconvinced and annoyed by Strandlof's claims, contacted the FBI. The government, in turn, investigated and filed a criminal complaint in the District of Colorado charging Strandlof with making false claims about receipt of military decorations or medals, in violation of the Stolen Valor Act.
Strandlof pleaded not guilty, and moved to dismiss the charges as unconstitutional.
Though the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Strandlof's Stolen Valor Act charges, the faux-hero's bad fortune could soon be reversed. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the issue in U.S. v. Alvarez on February 22.
- U.S. v. Strandlof (Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Stop, Valor Thief? DOJ Asks for Supreme Court Speech Opinion (FindLaw's Supreme Court blog)
- SCOTUS Considers Free Speech: FCC Indecency, Stolen Valor Act (FindLaw's Supreme Court blog)