PASADENA, Calif. — A 3-year-old federal law that 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 is unconstitutional, a divided federal appeals court panel in California ruled yesterday.
The decision involves the case of Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif., a water district board member who said at a public meeting in 2007 that he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration.
Alvarez was indicted in 2007. He pleaded guilty on condition that he be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds. He was sentenced under the Stolen Valor Act to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed 2-1 that the law violated Alvarez’s free-speech rights. The majority said in U.S. v. Alvarez that there's no evidence that such lies harm anybody, and no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies.
The dissenting judge, Jay S. Bybee, insisted that the majority refused to follow clear Supreme Court precedent that false statements of fact are not entitled ...