DENVER – A federal appeals court in Denver was hearing arguments Thursday on whether Congress can make it illegal to falsely claim to be a military hero.
At issue is the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have been awarded a military medal.
The case before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals centers on Rick Strandlof, a Colorado man who was arrested after claiming he was wounded in Iraq as a Marine and had received military medals. His lawyers have acknowledged the claims were false.
A federal judge ruled the law violated the First Amendment. Prosecutors asked the 10th Circuit to uphold the law, which has also been challenged in California.
The law makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have received a medal from the U.S. military.
Some legal scholars have said they expect the law to eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the Colorado case, Strandlof, who founded a veterans group in Colorado Springs, was charged in 2009 with violating the law by claiming to be an ex-Marine who was wounded in Iraq and received the Purple Heart and Silver Star. The military said it had no record that he ever served.
A federal judge threw out the case in July, ruling the U.S. government had not shown any compelling reason to restrict that particular type of speech.
The judge also ruled that lying about getting a military medal doesn't fall into any of the limited exceptions to free speech that the Supreme Court has recognized, including fraud.
The law doesn't require a showing that an alleged impostor got financial benefits or caused financial harm for a conviction.
In the California case, Xavier Alvarez, a water board official from Pomona, was indicted in 2007 after saying at a public forum that he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration.
He pleaded guilty on condition that he would be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled 2-1 in his favor in August.
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