Justices dismiss law making lying about military honors a crime
June 28th, 2012
11:25 AM ET

Justices dismiss law making lying about military honors a crime

By CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a federal law making it a crime to falsely claim military medals earned.

The 6-3 ruling was a free speech victory but perhaps in name only - for a onetime California public official who publicly lied about winning the prestigious Medal of Honor.

At issue is the constitutional value of false statements of fact, and whether Congress went too far when passing the Stolen Valor Act in 2006.

The ACLU's deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, said the ruling was “right to reject”.

“Perfectly respectable people sometimes lie to protect their privacy, avoid hurt feelings, make others feel better, duck minor obligations, or protect themselves and others from prejudice. If the court had endorsed the government’s sweeping argument, the government could regulate these false statements, and even criminalize them. The First Amendment reserves to individual citizens, not the government, the right to separate what is true from what is false, and to decide what ideas to introduce into private conversation and public debate. Today’s decision is an important reaffirmation of those crucial rights.”

Veteran organizations are disappointed with the decision.  Here are some of the statements:

“The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is greatly disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision that overturns the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. Despite the ruling, the VFW will continue to challenge far-fetched stories, and to publicize these false heroes to the broadest extent possible as a deterrent to others.”
-Richard  Denoyer, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States Commander in Chief

"While we are obviously saddened and aggrieved by the overall decision in this case, we felt good about the portions of the decision which suggest that a more narrowly tailored bill which incorporates traditional fraud elements would be upheld. Since the vast bulk of the more notorious valor thieves engage in this to gain something of value as a result, they will not be able to claim legal immunity once a new bill is passed."
-Fang Wong, American Legion National Commander

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Filed under: Justice Department • Medal of Honor • Military
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  27. Joe America

    I have to say one more thing, which is how evil it is to lie about receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor. Allowing someone to lie about this is the worst crime, as few who receive it live to get it in person. Those lucky enough to live and get it, personally, have been rewarded the Medal at risk of their own lives, to save many others. Some are severely injured for life. So, "supreme court justices" I say go to hell where you belong. You have all joined, what I call 'the national cabal of consentual mediocrity,' which has destroyed this nation. Again, shame on you.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
  28. Mike

    Look, if some wimp needs to lie about getting a medal, that's on him or her. They live in constant fear of discovery and that must be awful, plus, since they have no idea about medals and what they really mean. They already know they have no honor and with the internet it is much easier for people with no military experience to check the story. ALL military people know that with every award and decoration there is a certificate. BS artists never have them. So next time somebody says "I got this medal or award" the news media will say "Can we see that award certificate?" case closed

    June 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  29. RetiredVet

    Another way the liberal Supreme Court is screwing over true veterans, I doubt anyone on the Supreme Court has ever served in the military.

    June 29, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  30. joe

    what if they just made it a tax that you could get credit for if you could prove you didn't lie that year about earning a purple heart.

    June 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  31. Connie Weber

    So people can lie about being in the military, make a false DD214 stating they were IN THE MILITARY WHEN THEY WERENT AND honorably discharged and recieved numerous medals of honor RECEIVING VETERAN BENEFITS ETC BUT it is NOT a crime and they can NOT be prosecuted.
    But someone that was in the military, purchases a fake DD214 that says he was honorably discharge vice discharged under bad conduct because he needed a job to help take care of me, yet he is prosecuted, does 60 days in jail, and is now on 5 years probation and made out to be a child molester. WHERE IS THE EQUAL JUSTICE?

    June 28, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Reply
    • Gadflie

      If you lied about being in to get benefits, that's fraud and illegal. Same with your second situation.

      June 29, 2012 at 12:43 am | Reply
      • Connie Weber

        Nope, my son was honorably discharged on Jun 20, 1991 and reenlisted the next day, he did get into trouble and received a bad conduct discharge from a court martial. He purchased a novelty dd214 that changed his bad conduct to honorable and put it on his job application. He has never applied or received anytype of veterans benefits, assistance or honors.

        June 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • capgrup01

      As a veteran one should know that lying about serving is reprehensible. Was the person in your post also trying to recieve those benefits that are reserved for those of us that served faithfully; such as medical, college, vetpref. If so then they should be charged with theft.

      I also believe that someone with a bad conduct discharge had the same problems associated with their character before they lied about their discharge. That person is a fraud and a thief. Plain and simple.

      June 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
      • Connie Weber

        My son was honorably discharged on Jun 20, 1991 and reenlisted the next day, he did get into trouble and received a bad conduct discharge from a court martial. He purchased a novelty dd214 that changed his bad conduct to honorable and put it on his job application. He has never applied or received anytype of veterans preference, benefits, assistance or honors.

        June 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Joe America

      Connie, you're absolutely right, it's not equal treatment and its not fair.

      August 6, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  32. Portland tony

    I think the humiliation that posers receive when discovered more than makes up for anyone deceived by false claims of valor!

    June 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  33. Steve R

    Wonder what the ruling would have been if the false claims (or should I say "free speech") dealt with being "awarded" a J.D. and serving on a high-court???

    June 28, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • RCW

      thank you!!!!

      June 30, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  34. some guy

    Why has there been an exception, because it was a Public Official in California ? is he Above the law ? The US Justice System does not give a young never ticketed man, a break for his first DUI offence, not even a warning. But a public official who delibratly LIES about an honor (he allegedly received) that service members received after giving up there lives is given an exception by the Supreme Court. Both are misdemeanors BTW. Some Liberty , Justice and EQUALITY this is.

    June 28, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  35. Mile Hi Dave

    Sad... At least with my Purple Heart, there is a place to go online to verify whether someone was wounded in action. But, with other medals, there is no real database available to prove or disprove these claims. If you suspect someone is lying about being wounded in action, you can check that here: http://www.purpleheart.org/

    June 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  36. NCHunter

    As a retired member of the Military, I see a lot of wanna be and lair. I don't think we need to put these low lifes in jail. However, we exposed I think it should be very public

    June 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  37. Jim Dolbow

    How does someone win a Medal of Honor? Sloopy journalism because Medals of Honor are awarded. When you use the word win it makes them seem like lottery tickets. Just use the word awarded

    June 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  38. Scott B

    I hope any conservatives railing on about 'activist judges" remembers this. Here, you have the more liberal members of the court taking the 1st Amendment at face value where the more conservative ones think they see an asterisk beside "Congress shall make no law.....abridging the freedom of speech."

    June 28, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  39. Richard

    Why did I have to search to fine this article? It's a very important story to Veterans and their families. Should be on the main page. I've already sent it to many of my military friends who will be passing it along. This is an outrage in so many ways, especially the lack of information in the article. Can we get more details and possibly quotes from the justices? Who voted against and for allowing this guy to wear and claim the Medal of Honor?

    June 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply
    • Scott B

      Why do you require the government to use the force of law to get your way here? I agree it's disgraceful that people claim these things, but I can think of many other actions I consider disgraceful and I would never want to see police going around and arresting them.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
      • elltee

        let me guess, you have never served in the military

        June 28, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  40. Seamusgirl

    A stunning example of, " It may be legal but it is not moral/right". What was the penalty under that law anyway? Seriously, I never heard.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:54 am | Reply
    • TJ

      Seamusgirl – up to 6 months in prison. If MOH is involved it could go to a year.

      June 28, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Reply

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