Skip to comments.A Federal Law Against Lying
Posted on 08/22/2010 7:06:21 AM PDT by Kaslin
In 2005, Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., sponsored the Stolen Valor Act that made it a federal crime to lie about receiving military medals or honors from the military. Breaking the law could lead to a fine and a sentence of six months. Lying about being awarded the Medal of Honor, a Purple Heart or other top honors could carry a prison sentence of up to one year.
In 2006, the bill passed easily through the House and unanimously in the Senate. Last week, however, the Stolen Valor Act ran smack into the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- insert your favorite Ninth Circuit joke here.
A three-judge panel in San Francisco ruled that the law violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutional. Consider this tale the latest example of how impossible it is to get a simple law enacted, prosecuted and upheld in the American criminal justice system.
The beneficiary of the court's ruling: One Xavier Alvarez, the first known man to be charged and convicted for breaking the new law. In 2007, as a newly elected Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board member, Alvarez announced publicly, "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."
As U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Milan D. Smith noted, Alvarez never served a day in his life in the military, never was awarded a medal and has a rich history of telling lies about himself -- also having claimed falsely to have played pro hockey, to have worked as a cop and to have been married secretly to a Mexican starlet.
Alvarez is now serving a five-year sentence in state prison for misappropriating public funds by signing up his ex-wife for health insurance benefits.
Before the state conviction, Alvarez pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Stolen Valor Act and was sentenced to community service and probation and a $5,000 fine. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, Alvarez retained the right to appeal the law. A spokesman for the California Central District U.S. Attorney explained that conditional plea agreements are not unusual for convictions with "novel legal issues."
The approach paid off. As Smith wrote, if the courts upheld the law, "then there would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one's height, weight, age or financial status on Match.com or Facebook, or falsely representing 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 the freeway. The sad fact is, most people lie about some aspects of their lives from time to time."
It was of special concern to the court that the Stolen Valor Act imposes a criminal penalty "for the mere utterance or writing of what is, or may be perceived as, a false statement of fact." The law isn't limited, for example, to lies on job applications, but lies anywhere. For Americans wary of the government acting as thought police, Smith laid out a compelling argument. But in so doing, he essentially held that lying about yourself is a free-speech right.
Judge Jay Bybee wrote a spirited dissenting opinion in which he noted, "I can see no value in false, self-aggrandizing statements by public servants ... If the Stolen Valor Act 'chills' false autobiographical claims by public officials such as Alvarez, our public discourse will not be the worse for the loss."
"From a nonlegal perspective, I don't necessary disagree with that," Alvarez attorney Jonathan Libby told me. But as an attorney, Libby said he believes the new law "is beyond the Constitution."
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley made a similar argument in a piece for USA Today. Turley didn't disagree with those who would call Alvarez and others "valor thieves" and "semper frauds." He wrote, "We can all agree that false claims of military honors are repugnant and worthy of social condemnation. These men deserve to be social pariahs, but there remains a serious question over whether they deserve to be criminal defendants."
I should point out that if Alvarez had lied about his military record for financial gain, then other laws would have taken care of him nicely.
And: Smith, Bybee and Judge Thomas Nelson were appointed by Republican presidents, so you could call this issue an honest, if spirited, disagreement inside the right.
As Libby noted, "The point of the case was whether Congress, consistent with the First Amendment, can pass a law determining what lies are criminal and what lies are not."
For his part, Bybee argued that knowingly false statements deserve no First Amendment protection. But in this complicated age, nothing is simple. Think about it. I don't think this lying, cheating poseur would have been caught if he hadn't won an election.
well i suppose if a islamic terrorist impersonates an officer to shoot and kill a bunch of soldiers on a base its ok to lie about being military..after all its justified. just like the lies from the press and politicians
I’m trying to remember why Martha Stewart went to jail.
Martha Stewart went to jail for lying to investigators. It’s not the same. I agree with the 9th. This was a stupid law.
Or why the 9th circuit court didn’t say it was okay to lie then.
See, I think it is completely wrong that there was even a law to control our speech in the first place. How far do we let them go in the name of keeping some kind of peace and order ? They should just have charged the man with fraud and dealt with it that way. I have to agree with the ninth circuit on this one, if I choose to say I have millions and won a Nobel award, like Obie, then I should be able too. It’s when it affects someone else, that there are other laws in place to convict.
People lying to the government: bad.
Government lying to the People so they can get elected and spit on the constitution: good.
(I know he’s not in the government yet. He’s just warming up)
Demorats do not like the truth. The pResident would have show a birth certificate. John Kerry could not lie about troops. Politicians would have to tell the truth.
What does that have to do with anything? Where did I say govt lying to people was okay?
If it had been written the way most prosecuters chose to enforce it; it was not a stupid law. We need a law against people misrepresenting their military service- it just needs to be written in such a way that it is not a violation of the law unless there is gain of some sort- to me that would fall under fraud.
Stolen Valor really is a serious issue, I suggest you read the book titled Stolen Valor and you will gain some understanding of the situation the law was meant to cover.
Some have lied about their military service to qualify for veteran’s benefits and other financial gain and have been successful. This may not happen as much now with computer matching but some military records are incomplete so I am convinced there are still people that do not qualify using veteran’s benefits.
I also don’t think it should be legal for anyone to lie about military service to gain employment or to further their career. In fact I don’t think it should be legal for anyone to lie about military service for gain- whether the gain is benefits, a job, or even a business contract such as a government contract where veteran owned companies may be given preference.
The law was broadly written, and could be abused- but there have been few prosecutions because prosecutors have demanded documentation- not just that “someone said they are a veteran” it had to reach the level where they claimed it in writing in a way to gain something.
The other issue was the wearing of unauthorized medals and I believe that should be against the law anywhere, anytime, by everyone. A few cases have been prosecuted for that, but there had to be proof that the person claimed to have earned the medals to many witnesses and actually wore the medals- not just displayed them.
ctually, the USSC has already ruled that politicians have an absolute right to lie to the electorate.
Just sayin’ ...
and Martha & Scooter Libby too
They call it process crime
Mr. James Duane, a professor at Regent Law School and a former defense attorney, tells you why you should never agree to be interviewed by the police. PART 1
An experienced police officer tells you why you should never agree to be interviewed by the police. Part 2
How so? All lies are self serving. If I tell you I was born in the USA, am I lying? Or, you see my birth certificate and see that I am born in the USA. Was Dennis Hopper lying to Christopher Walken in "True Love?"
In the book "The girl who kicked a hornets nest," Swedish Constitutional protection is made to revolve, in an almost torturous way, around free speech. Murder is not as much of a crime for killing someone, as, it is a crime for depriving them of their free speech permanently.
The guy in the case was a local official who used the lie to build a constituency.
But, with impunity
Cops can lie to you.
Politicians can lie to you.
The examples are too numerous to list.
You lie to the FBI, you go to jail.
The FBI lies to you, crickets chirp.
Have you ever served in the military?
So I guess it’s okey to yell fire in a crowded theater now.
According to the logic of the 9th Circuit Court it must be
Great tagline BTW.
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