SCOTUS to rule on military lying – Stephanie Gaskell – POLITICO.com

The Supreme Court’s got more than health care left to decide, including a case about whether it’s a crime to lie about being a military hero.

The federal Stolen Valor Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005. The law makes it illegal to falsely claim to be the recipient of military honors and decorations and can be punishable by fines and up to a year in jail.

The law was challenged by lawyers for Xavier Alvarez, a former California water district board member who lied at a public meeting about receiving a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.

Alvarez had never even served in the military.

He was sentenced to three years of probation, a $5,000 fine and community service. His attorneys appealed, arguing that his lie wasn’t criminal and should be protected under the First Amendment. Last year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear his case.

via SCOTUS to rule on military lying – Stephanie Gaskell – POLITICO.com.

Most Stolen Valor prosecutions so far have been on those who have not committed what would traditionally be called fraud. That is, a lie perpetrated in order to receive a tangible benefit, such as veterans benefits or such. Instead, most have received the intangible benefit of public goodwill that comes from the high esteem our country currently places on honorable military service.

I’m always leery of any government attempt to restrict speech, even lies. Normally, I’d argue that public condemnation and shaming are the right path to punishing those liars. But I do believe the benefit of public esteem and goodwill accrued by lying liars what lie about military service amounts to such a substantial benefit that the Stolen Valor Act is indeed a valid use of the force of law. We’ll just have to wait to tomorrow to see if the Supreme Court and I are in agreement.

8 thoughts on “SCOTUS to rule on military lying – Stephanie Gaskell – POLITICO.com”

  1. I’m 100% in favor of the concept behind this law … and 100% against the kneejerk stupid way that it was written, and I hope that it gets struck down.

    Tom Hanks wore the Medal in Forrest Gump. Based on the Stolen Valor act, as written, he could be prosecuted for this “crime.” On top of this, so could …

    – The studio that made and distributed the film;
    – Every movie theater that showed it;
    – The company that reproduced the video tapes and DVD’s;
    – The distributors and retail outlets for the video tapes and DVD’s;
    – Every TV station that’s ever broadcast it over the air;
    – Every cable / satellite company that’s ever had that content broadcast through their service;
    – The advertisers during those broadcasts
    – Every consumer that ever bought the DVD / video tapes.

    Any law granting rights or privileges should be as broad as possible. Laws restricting rights or privileges should be as narrowly focussed as possible. This law is using nuclear weapons to dispose of an anthill located in the middle of a very crowded city.

  2. LT Rusty, the examples you cite are based on fiction, they are actors and all of the support people that go with them. Stolen Valor is when the person claims the comments are factual. With these claims, the person claims a financial benefit in some manner or form. We can also mean a perceived increase in stature through reputation. I do not believe “Stolen Valor” covers actors and their many support personnel, because their actions are based on a character, not themselves. How many times would people believe that John Wayne violated this law? He never served in the military, at all. This should be interesting to see how the Supreme Court resolves the balance.

    1. Read the law, Grumpy. It doesn’t have any language in it about WHY someone is wearing decorations / insignia / rank / etc. to which they are not entitled. It simply criminalizes the wearing itself.

      Under the terms of this law, yeah – John Wayne could absolutely have been prosecuted. Should he have been? Absolutely not. Would they have prosecuted him? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. But that’s not the point: they -could- have. And that’s why the law – as written – should be struck down.

      The judge at the Circuit Court (4th? 5th? Can’t recall) in US v. Strandlof practically gave the government a road map for how to re-write the law so that it would pass Constitutional muster.

  3. LT Rusty, very well written. The Present Law also criminalized any unauthorized attempts to obtain a specific a specific group of medals.

    Leaving Strandlov out of this process, what are the values you would counsel Congress or Supreme Court in the process of formulating a solution to this issue?

    1. I would like to see some language added that made it an offense only if you used the medals / insignia / uniform in the furtherance of another criminal or civil offense. Fraud, for instance – IIRC Strandlof was using his “status” as a decorated veteran to raise money for something. Getting free meals on Veteran’s Day / Memorial Day / 4th of July – that’s fraud by deception too. Some medals not your own got you in bed with an otherwise out-of-your-league woman? Guess what – that’s rape by deception, and that’s illegal.

      Virtually every single case where you’d want to prosecute someone for this, you could find SOMETHING to legitimately go after them for, and just tack the uniform / medal / whatever charge on top of it as an enhancement.

  4. We shall need to disagree then LT. The examples you cite, are all currently illegal. And you even state the crimes associated with it. Fraud, rape by deception, theft. There really needs to be no further protections regarding that, because they’re already covered. What is NOT covered are those lies which steal nothing but goodwill from others. No one can claim that Poe wouldn’t have passed to the next round in America’s Got Talent without his cock-and-bull story about taking a grenade for his buddies. But it certainly influenced the judges. Could you PROVE fraud in that case? Probably not. Or what about the poiltician who claims he was a soldier to enhance his reputation with the voters. What would you charge him with?

    There needs to be a law that covers these grey areas. Knowingly lying about rank, positions, and awards not earned by the individual. Sure, carve an exception for claims made in the course of a clearly marked work of fiction (think those disclaimers at the ends of film). But don’t leave a weasel route of “I was engaging in a street performance art piece” as an excuse. If you show up to a non-costume party dressed as a servicemember, you’re engaging in Stolen Valor (e.g. Gen Soulpatch McBallduster). If you’re portraying SGT Alvin York in a film, you are not.

    1. Mike, I agree with you that it’s definitely a bad thing to pretend to be a veteran when you’re not … but you’re going to have to wordt he law pretty carefully to get it to restrict only one specific type of conduct.

      Otherwise, you wind up with a situation like today, where you could conceivably be prosecuted for wearing a uniform for a character in a movie. It’s like the judge said about obscenity: you know it when you see it. Thing is, that’s too subjective a standard, and far too vague to be allowed to stand.

  5. I am of the personal opinion that anyone caught attempting to perform what is commonly known as Stealing Valor, should be prosecuted for fraud. Period. In NO way is such a reprehensible act guarded by the First Amendment, it is a CRIME.

    The law should be written as clearly as possible – fat chance – to exclude actors, reenactors and the like for the purposes of fictional depiction of Sevice Members in uniform. But anyone caught lying about military service – regardless of direct financial benefit – for personal gain, should see no less than five years prison time.

    Certainly some would view that as extreme. I view it as making an example of lying scum.

    The reason? We cannot rely upon society at large to shame these degenerate parasites. That is a hopeless endeavor, as too many are either clueless, cannot comprehend the concept of honor and integrity, or despise the men and women in uniform who keep them free.

    Veterans today are the ULTIMATE minority. A minority that people who are Americans in name only feel no qualms about belittling, dismissing, attacking, or exploiting in one form or another. This is especially true with elected politicians.

    The leftists and minority racist grievance peddlers go apoplectic over talking Hallmark greeting cards that speak of “Black Holes”, or white men using common phrases such as “A black cloud hanging over us”. They freak out over all imagined and deliberately fabricated slights against protected victim groups. The white guilt account the race card takes from is OVERDRAWN.

    Yet they despise the men and women who sacrifice all to grant them their freedom. They spit upon black men of integrity, such as LTC Allen West, thinking nothing of calling him an “Uncle Tom” for committing liberal socialist thought-crime, namely speaking truth they do not want to hear. But this is permissible, as he is both a combat Veteran and a republican. At rallies, liberals said Herman Cain should be have been lynched or put to work in the fields. WHITE liberals said this. His crime? He is a self-made man who attempted to run for president without promoting perpetual victimhood.

    Their hypocrisy, self-rightous indignation and double-standards at times are too much to be tolerated. The time has come to counter-attack using their tactics against them.

    If they deem such dishonor to be free speech, than I interpret that to mean honor requiring physical pain inflicted upon the offending party to satisfy that honor be free speech as well.

    I was nearly spat on by a liberal college student in new york while in uniform not long after obama took office. I had been minding my business, grabbing a sandwich when he decided to approach and launch into an awkward, sputtering tirade about bush-chaney-gitmo-hitler-halliburton-kbr-blackwater nonsense.

    When I asked if he even understood what he was upset about or was just a mindless puppet doing his liberal professor’s bidding, he cleared his sinuses.

    What changed his mind was the very sharp knife that appeared in my hand.

    I do not believe I have ever been more angry in my life.

    To this day, I wish I had killed that worthless fool.

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