Stolen Valor Act ruled Unconstitutional

Discussion in 'Academy/Military News' started by Luigi59, Jul 23, 2010.

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  1. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    Federal judge rules Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional

    The Associated Press
    July 19, 2010
    By Dan Elliott

    DENVER

    A law that makes it illegal to lie about being a war hero is unconstitutional because it violates free speech, a federal judge ruled Friday as he dismissed a case against a Colorado man who claimed he received two military medals.

    Rick Glen Strandlof claimed he was an ex-Marine who was wounded in Iraq and received the Purple Heart and Silver Star, but the military had no record he ever served. He was charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have won a military medal.

    U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn dismissed the case and said the law is unconstitutional, ruling the government did not show it has a compelling reason to restrict that type of statement.

    A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Denver said prosecutors are reviewing the decision and haven't decided whether to appeal. The spokesman said that decision would be made by the U.S. Justice Department in Washington and prosecutors in Denver.

    Strandlof's lawyer, Bob Pepin, said he hadn't spoken to Strandlof since the ruling was issued. Pepin said he would advise Strandlof not to comment publicly because the case might be appealed.

    "Obviously, we think this is the right decision, or we wouldn't have been making the objections to the statute to begin with," he said. Pepin said Strandlof has been living in a halfway house in Denver while his case is in the courts.

    The law has also been challenged in California and in a case now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Denver attorney Christopher P. Beall, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, said the Stolen Valor Act is fatally flawed because it doesn't require prosecutors to show anyone was harmed or defamed by the lie.

    "The government position was that any speech that's false is not protected by the First Amendment. That proposition is very dangerous," Beall said.

    "It puts the government in a much more powerful position to prosecute people for speaking out on things they believe to be true but turn out not to be true," he said.

    Beall said the ACLU was not defending the actions Strandlof is accused of, but took issue with the principle behind the law.

    Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who sponsored the Stolen Valor Act in the House, predicted the decision will be overturned on appeal.

    "This is an issue of fraud plain and simple," Salazar said in a written release. "The individuals who violate this law are those who knowingly portray themselves as pillars of the community for personal and monetary gain."

    Pam Sterner, who as a college student wrote a policy analysis that became the basis of Salazar's bill, said the issue isn't free speech but misrepresentation. Sterner, a former Coloradan who now lives in Virginia, said authentic medal winners' credibility suffers when impostors are exposed because the public becomes suspicious of even true stories of heroism
     
  2. WAMom68

    WAMom68 Founding Member

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    I'm not a lawyer or a judge but this is insane. :mad: :thumbdown:
    What about the rights of the service members who EARNED those awards?
     
  3. scoutpilot

    scoutpilot Member

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    What rights would those be?
     
  4. WAMom68

    WAMom68 Founding Member

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    I guess “rights” wasn’t the correct word to use. I intended it to mean that they earned the award so they have the right to wear it…if you don’t earn it, don’t wear it. I find it hard to accept that wearing military awards you haven’t earned is included in freedom of speech. I hate it, but I have to live with the fact that others don’t have the same moral standards I have.
     
  5. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    I understand where you're coming from, but you're confusing morals/values/emotions with rights. An individual can walk into an Army/Navy surplus store and buy a military dress uniform; decorate it to make themselves a 4 star general; and wear it in public. They can buy a real or replica of an olympic gold medal for swimming, and say they won it. Freedom of speech and expression in the constitution at no time implies that you must "Tell the truth". As long as you aren't committing slander or other lies against another individual, you are free to "Fantasize" your life all you want.

    Now, from a moral standing; yes, the individual who pretends to be a decorated veteran, is a slime ball. But we can not dictate morals and values. The olympic medal athlete's accomplishments are not diminished because someone is impersonating a medal recipient. Neither are the military member's achievements being diminished because someone wants to embellish their uneventful life. I will ALWAYS side on the constitution and our rights. Making it a law to not be allowed to lie, is the first step of hindering other forms of speech and expression. If a military member doesn't think enough of him/her self without their decorations, then they'll never think enough of themselves with them.
     
  6. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    Not necessarily. It might not be freedom of speech at all but the attempt to commit fraud by receiving benefits intended for someone who earned them.
     
  7. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    That's already a crime, without a need for the Stolen Valor Act.

    Your position mirrors the ACLU - penalize not the speech (the wearing of the medals or telling fake war stories) but the actions or benefits that are fraudulently derived from such conduct.
     
  8. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    You are correct luigi. It isn't a crime to pretend to be someone you're not. But if you use identity theft of an individual or of a group in order to fraudulently receive benefits, that is a crime. As luigi said, that's already a crime; you don't need so "Feel good" law to cover it. The more of these supposedly "Good" laws we have that protect individuals/groups, the more rights that WILL be taken away from us. Someone wants to claim to be some war here; fine. I either buy what they are saying, or I call B.S. if they want some benefit from it, then they better start producing proof of such claims. Don't need B.S. feel good laws.
     
  9. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    The intent of those who wrote the law was that stealing valor was no different than stealing VA benefits. Are you aware that if you meet someone who claims that they earned a MOH, DSC, Navy or AF Cross or were a POW, the odds are more than double that they are a fake? That these same individuals are speaking to schools, civic and fraternal organizations, etc. They are indeed stealing the valor of those who earned it and should be prosecuted. I feel certain that if the court of appeals does not correct this, that the law will be rewritten to be more specific, as it should. I take it none of you are Vietnam veterans?
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2010
  10. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    I agree that if they are speaking under false pretense, that they are attempting to gain benefit. These people should be prosecuted. But there is no crime in simply lying of who you are. We can talk morally or legally, but we can't interchange the two.
     
  11. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    Actually, it's no different from claiming they were a member of Deep Purple, or once played 2nd base for the Dodgers. You are looking for prosecution based on the content of the lie.

    Should those who claim to be ex-professional baseball players be prosecuted?

    That pesky ol' 1st Amendment is there for a reason. Even unpopular speech is protected.

    Those who claim to be war heroes should be exposed as liars, they should be publicly shamed. But to make the content of speech a prosecutable crime?

    Very dangerous ground.

    If they profit or gain from the lie, that's fraud, lock them up.

    That's possible, but until that happens we should not tolerate unconstitutional laws.

    Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Panama, etc - how does it matter WHICH conflict the medals (or alleged medals) were awarded for?
     
  12. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    The Vietnam era did not distinguish the warrior from the policy maker. Both were despised. I haven’t spoken to my best friend in high school for 40 years. He lives less than two miles away in a rural area. This law comes from a book Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of its Heroes and its History by B.G. Burkett & Glenna Whitley which asserts that the popular view of Vietnam veterans as homeless, broken, psychopaths is largely untrue but was perpetuated mostly by ‘wanabees”, the same individuals who despised these individuals while they were fighting for their country. This injustice has maligned an entire generation of our armed services. The forces behind this law were largely an atonement for this injustice.

    No superiority at all. Perhaps one had to have been there to appreciate the reasons behind the law.
     
  13. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    Me too. I thought we were all relatively normal people who came home and got on with our lives. Where do you think the homeless, psychopathic, broken stereotype that exists today came from? I forget the exact statistic but it is somewhere around 3:1 of people who claim to have served in Vietnam to those who have actually served there. Do you honestly think the type of person who would claim this would be the type to present a positive image of the Vietnam soldier? They have stolen the valor of those who honorably served and deserve to be prosecuted.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2010
  14. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    While I appreciate the service of every veteran throughout our nation's growth, I won't go for the pity card. Our country has become weaker because of the pity card. It's been used on the poor, on blacks, on women, and on every conceivable minority. No matter how good the intentions, there will be somebody out there that will turn it into an entitlement discussion. Where a particular group of people are owed something. I've had 2 cousins and 4 uncles in the vietnam war. I was 3 years too young. War indeed is hell. It sucks. And the worst part of the vietnam war, was the number of individuals who were serving their country, but NOT by choice. They were drafted. But life moves on. I will speak of my military service to other vets. Maybe it's friends here in town that I served with. Maybe it's strangers I meet at a vfw or american legion hall. I don't ever speak about my military service with ANYONE who hasn't served. Not even my wife. She knew that when she married me. Don't ever ask me how my day went; how work went; or how a deployment went. If I want to mention anything about it in small talk, I will.

    But back on topic here; if you can't throw emotions out of this discussion, then you can't discuss it. Aristotle once said, "paraphrased"; "The Law is reason free from passion". In other words, you can not make or enforce laws when emotions are involved. That is why even our judicial and legislative system requires so many people be involved in it; as well as checks and balances and an appeal system. Forget vietnam, grenada, panama, libya, kuwait, bosnia, afghanistan, iraq, etc... The 2 constitutional rights that we have protection from the government on, which ALL other rights come from, are the 1st and 2nd amendments. The freedom of speech, thought, expression, beliefs, religion, etc.... and the 2nd amendment which says if anyone, INCLUDING and ESPECIALLY the government tries to infringe on my rights, I am allowed to arm myself and protect my freedoms. Without these 2 key points in the bill of rights, none of the others would apply or be usable.

    And when I took the oath to protect and defend the constitution against ALL enemies, that includes myself. Meaning, I can't protect the 1st amendment ONLY only for people that I AGREE with their speech, or agree with their religion, or their beliefs. I have to defend it equally with my life for the person who I totally despise. If I don't, then those rights mean absolutely nothing. And sorry, but I believe that military people ABOVE ALL OTHERS should be able to understand this. When you can sleep at night, knowing you've protected or was willing to protect the rights of all Americans, and you feel equally proud that the person calling you a Baby Killer, or is practicing a religion that you totally are against, has equal exercise of their rights; then you did your job honorably.

    No, I was not a medal of honor recipient. Or the silver star. Not even a purple heart. But I also don't care that I don't have those decorations. Matter of fact, while I'm extremely proud of my 21 years of service, I couldn't give a rat's a$$ about any of my medals or ribbons. Why? Because those decorations don't determine who I am. And anyone who has to measure their worth by mentioning or displaying their decorations, has some self esteem problems. I said it earlier; if an impostor goes around claiming that they were a POW, war hero, medal recipient, etc... So freakin what? If s/he tries to gain "privileges" from this lie, and they are caught, they should be prosecuted for fraud. That's a crime. But there is no crime for "Pretending" you're something you're not. If it was a crime, every single one of us would have been in jail when we were kids impersonating super heros and whatever. The difference is: "Is this impostor trying to reap benefits from their impersonation". If yes, that's fraud. Prosecute them. If not, then they are just living a delusional life. Oh well. Again; the law is reason free from passion. If you want to talk about the "LAW", we can do that. But not if the "Holier than thou" horse is in the stable.
     
  15. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    There was a juxtaposition of many events after the Vietnam war which led to this particular Act. Many of these, while not defining the law itself, give a background for its necessity

    This entire issue is hard for career types, who had the support group of fellow military members when they returned, to understand. The returning Vietnam veteran was welcomed into this community with open arms and appreciation for a job well done. This is not true of those who returned to the civilian community. Not only was the local population poisoned against the war, the media, from Hollywood to the local weekly newspaper, was a major contributor in contributing to this poisoning. If applicable, similar to the news stories from the old deep South, a news article often ended with the phrase, “Bob Jones who committed this heinous crime was a Vietnam war veteran. His father William reports that he has had a lot of trouble adjusting since he returned from the war.” The myth was born. It was fostered by every veteran’s gathering from then on. Parades, picnics, etc etc. When asked to envision the Vietnam veteran, many see a long haired bearded scruffy dirty individual wearing an old field jacked festooned in badges and medals unique to service3 in Vietnam. News cameras were quick to pick up these individuals, usually in the very forefront of the crowd. It is not to much of a leap of one’s imagination to see a homeless, drug-addicted psychopath living on the very margins of society. What Burkett and Whitley discovered and published in their book was that the vast majority of these individuals had never been to Vietnam, even though their medals and ’badges’ indicated that they had and that many had not even served. The position was that this had nothing to do with free speech but with an effort to “steal” something from those who had truly earned it.

    Don’t tell me that if you walk into an office and simply notice an AF Cross medal and citation behind the individual’s desk on his I-love-me wall, that it will not affect your interactions with that individual? Nothing mentioned aloud. He ‘asked’ for considerations for which he did not deserve, thus cheapening it for those who really did deserve it. Nothing at all to do with free speech. Very very few don their fake ribbons and tell their ’war stories’ alone in the privacy of their home. The instant they do it with someone else present, they are seeking some type of gain. Those who formulated this law felt there was a direct coorelation to this gain by the undeserving and loss by the deserving. Again, nothing to do with free speech. We cannot falsely cry "Fire" in a crowded theater. It has negative effects.

    With modern computer technology, it is only going to get worse. In fifteen minutes from this very instant I could have a Navy Cross on its way to my mailbox and have downloaded and rewritten an entire citation. I could even have obtained the frame in which to mount it. The law needs to be there, perhaps written better.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2010
  16. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    Perhaps, but we should not be governed by a "bad" (unconstitutional) law while we wait for the new law.

    The SVA creates two classes of free-speech protection, based on the subject/content of the speech. (Perhaps also violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment).

    I can lie about being a former baseball player who made the All Star team in 1956 as a backup catcher, or I can lie about climbing the South route of Mt Everest.

    I can order (or print myself) framed newspaper articles confirming my All Star selection, as well as fake artifacts and altered photos from my Everest expedition. I can put them up on my wall behind my desk.

    And that's all legal and constitutional.

    But if I hang up a framed Bronze Star and CIB in the frame next to it, I am committing a crime?

    Where is the fraud? Where is the gain?

    If I use my fake status as an ex-ballplayer to get some insurance or medical benefits - prosecute me. If I use my fake status as an Everest climber to gain employment as a mountain guide - fire me. And if I use my fake Bronze Star and CIB to qualify for free movie passes at the local Bijou Theater, take them from me, expose me as a lying cheat, and perhaps even arrest me for fraud.

    The speech itself, the act of lying, the act of placing the medals on the wall, should not be a crime until it is used to fraudulently gain or obtain a benefit that would otherwise be denied.

    And rightly, the court agreed.
     
  17. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    Why would one place a medal on a wall in a place where it could be seen by others for any other reason than to fraudently gain a favored status?

    Additionally, I guess my first question would be whether or not we, as a nation, can afford the valor of a serviceman to a greater level than a backup catcher or mountain climber. Next would be to show that an underserving individual by falsing claiming this valor somehow diminishes it for those who truly deserve it. Thirdly, it is against the law in most juridictions to impersonnate a police officer even if they show no intent to commit another crime. Why is impersonating a war hero any different? I somehow feel that my first and third concerns are somehow related. Until I can answer these questions for myself, I am bowing out of the discussion.
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2010
  18. Luigi59

    Luigi59 Banned

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    The 1st Amendment, as it stands today, protects unpopular speech just as vigorously as it protects popular speech, sometimes to the extreme.

    The process of amending the Constitution is long and arduous.
     
  19. Mongo

    Mongo Banned

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    This remains my position, and question, from your original post:

    I sincerely hope that the appeals courts agree with her.
     
  20. Christcorp

    Christcorp Member

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    Mongo, you really have to learn how to separate your feelings from the law; and recognize the implications that affect citizens every time another law or change is done. The veteran impersonator is NOT STEELING anything from the legitimate veteran. S/He might be trying to gain false respect, stature, etc... from those s/he is trying to con. As Luigi mentioned, if you discover the truth from these individuals, you expose them for what they are. If the impersonator is trying to gain financially, such as military discounts, charging a fee for a public speaking engagement, public/private funding, etc... then that is fraud. That is a crime. They should be prosecuted. Anything else, is simply a person who is exaggerating them self and their achievements. Basically, if the "Lie" you tell can do actual harm to an individual; e.g. impersonating a doctor, lawyer, etc...; or you have taken money, goods, or services reserved for the actual recipient of the person you are impersonating, these are crimes and should be punishable. Anything else is simply an emotional reaction by individuals who have a personal tie with the person/entity being impersonated. And that is not against the law, nor should it be.

    When you make such behavior itself, a crime; you open the door for interpretation for other behavior. Pretty soon, you're being prosecuted or controlled for your thoughts and beliefs. You don't see this type of law as an infringement on our 1st amendment rights; but it is. Then again, there are those who are 100% in support of the Patriot Act. And such an act will be "Sold" to us as needed to protect our country. And we will be convinced to willingly give up some of our privacy in the name of National Security.

    Mongo, you keep speaking of Vietnam veterans. Why don't we try and find some older, WWII veterans and/or that generation, and ask them about the internment camps in this country against Japanese Americans and similar? This is a forum. The nature of it alone lends itself to deceit. You yourself could be totally B.S.ing this entire forum. You might have no military experience whatsoever. Yet, you present opinions and comments that potential military cadets/officers may actually follow. There are many people who automatically believe anything they see posted on the internet as "FACT". Well, it isn't. That's why places like forums, "RESPECT" of opinion takes a while. I takes lots of responses to various topics, bounced off of our personal experiences and knowledge, to determine if the person speaking actually has any experience and 1st hand knowledge; or if they are spouting B.S. Just because you comment on a forum, doesn't mean you should be respected. Imagine if we find out that you are one of these grungy old guys who has elaborated their achievements. Should you go to jail? Have you stolen the valor from those who have actually served, or would you simply be someone who is a B.S. artist. The more posts we make, the more we are validated. But when a person first comes here, we can't just automatically give them the same respect of content that we give to someone who we've validated through comparative content. On this forum, I personally know about 10 members. Members that I've met face to face or through a 3rd party. Other than that, others can see me as a total B.S. artist also.

    Point is, unless an impersonator is steeling services, money, or goods; they are not committing a crime. Anything else, they should be exposed as a fraud. We don't need laws that infringe on our constitutional rights, just to make a few people "FEEL GOOD".
     
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