Hi, LB! Here’s an article I took from the ABA’s website. It was written by Bobbie K. Ross, Michel & Associates, P.C., Long Beach, California:
November 10, 2011
Supreme Court to Hear Military Honors Lying Case
Should lying about earning military honors be a federal crime, or does it simply amount to a white lie protected by the First Amendment? On October 17, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to make that decision. United States v. Alvarez [PDF], 617 F.3d 1198 (9th Cir. 2010).
The case arose from a false statement made by Xavier Alvarez after he was elected to the Three Valley Water District Board of Directors in Southern California. At a July 23, 2007, public meeting, Alvarez introduced himself by saying, “I’m a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy. I’m still around.”
Alvarez had never been awarded the Medal of Honor, nor had he even been a Marine.
Later, when a woman notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about Alvarez’s lies concerning military service, the agency obtained a recording of the meeting in which Alvarez lied about his background. Alvarez was ultimately indicted on two counts of violating the Stolen Valor Act, 18 U.S.C. § 704(b), (c), which makes it a crime for an individual to knowingly and falsely represent that he or she has received certain military honors, including the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The district court found that the First Amendment did not protect statements the speaker knows to be false and sentenced Alvarez to three years of probation, 416 hours of community service, a $5,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment. Alvarez appealed on First Amendment grounds.
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. Finding that the Stolen Valor Act did not meet strict scrutiny because it was not narrowly tailored, the appeals court declined to “enlarge the scope of existing categorical exceptions to First Amendment protection.” The court found that the Stolen Valor Act regulated and imposed criminal penalties on pure speech without any “additional elements that serve to narrow what speech may be punished.” It reasoned that upholding the Stolen Valor Act as constitutional might lead to the criminalization of little white lies told about one’s personal appearance on online dating websites or fibbing to “one’s mother that one does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on a freeway.”
After the Ninth Circuit denied en banc review, the U.S. Solicitor General filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing that the law “plays a vital role in safeguarding the integrity and efficacy of the government’s military honors system.”
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case early next year, with a ruling possible by the end of June.