Tuesday, May 24, 2011

10th Circuit Deciding Fake Veteran Case

By Kristina Derro
Veterans Disability Lawyer

Last week, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit heard oral arguments on a case involving a Colorado man who falsely claimed to be a highly-decorated Marine Corps veteran. He is being tried under the Stolen Valor Act, a piece of legislation passed in 2006 that makes it a crime to lie about receiving military medals.

The defendant, Rick Strandlof, founded a veteran advocacy group and claimed to be an Iraqi War veteran who received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. In reality, Strandlof never even served in the military in any capacity. Fellow advocates exposed his deceit and federal authorities charged Strandlof with violating the Stolen Valor Act.

At his trial in the U.S. District Court, Strandlof did not deny his lies, but instead argued that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional and that his lies are protected under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The District Judge agreed and dismissed the case against Strandlof, but stated that while the U.S. Constitution does not protect against fraudulent speech, in Strandlof’s case there was no actual victim of the fraud. The District Judge noted that the Stolen Valor Act “criminalizes the mere utterance of the false statement regardless whether anyone is harmed thereby. It is merely fraud in the air, untethered from any underlying crime at all”.

The government appealed, arguing in its brief to the Tenth Circuit that the Stolen Valor Act is narrowly tailored and does not discourage people from making other constitutionally-protected statements. It noted that the Act is aimed at preventing harm to the public from the “misappropriation of the benefits, reputation, and credibility properly accorded to those who have earned military honors”. The attorney for the government noted that “[f]alse statements are not protected speech. They undermine rather than advance the free marketplace of ideas”.

However, the Tenth Circuit judges strongly questioned the Justice Department attorney, wondering where the criminalization of lies stops and pointing out that what the government wants to implement is a broad category of protection against false statements of facts.

This case is proving to be extremely important because last year, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled the Act unconstitutional because of the same free-speech concerns. If the Tenth Circuit comes to the same conclusion as the Ninth Circuit, then it would become more settled law that the Act is unconstitutional. However, if the Tenth Circuit were to rule differently, it would make it more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court would step in to settle the dispute.

To learn more or to contact a Veterans disability lawyer, Veterans disability attorney, Veterans lawyer, or Veterans attorney call 1.800.693.4800 or visit Legalhelpforveterans.com

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