Stolen Valor Act suffers in Strandlof case

| July 16, 2010

Apparently, the judge in the Strandlof case has declared the Stolen Valor Act a violation of the first amendment. Our friends Doug Sterner (who helped write the act) and POW Net sent us a copy of the decision.

Now, I’m no lawyer but I’ve been reading the decision and here are the relevant parts of the decision;

.) Clearly, the Act is intended to preserve the symbolic significance of military medals, but the question whether such an interest is compelling is not at all as manifest as the government’s ipse dixit implies.

To conclude that the government may permit designated symbols to be used to communicate only a limited set of messages would be to enter territory having no discernible or defensible boundaries. Could the government, on this theory, prohibit the burning of state flags? Of copies of the Presidential seal? Of the Constitution? In evaluating these choices under the First Amendment, how would we decide which symbols were sufficiently special to warrant this unique status? To do so, we would be forced to consult our own political preferences, and impose them on the citizenry, in the very way that the First Amendment forbids us to do.

I have profound faith – a faith that appears to be questioned by the government here – that the reputation, honor, and dignity military decorations embody are not so tenuous or ephemeral as to be erased by the mere utterance of a false claim of entitlement. The social approbation that attends those who would attempt to bask in the reflected glory of honors they have not earned demonstrates that the people of this nation continue to revere our brave military men and women regardless of – or perhaps even more so. Indeed, the fact that grassroots efforts to unmask imposters such as defendant appear to be thriving attests to the veracity of this proposition.

We are fortified in today’s conclusion by our conviction that forbidding criminal punishment for conduct such as [defendant’s] will not endanger the special role played by our flag or the feelings it inspires. . . . .
We are tempted to say, in fact, that the flag’s deservedly cherished place in our community will be strengthened, not weakened, by our holding today.

Our decision is a reaffirmation of the principles of freedom and inclusiveness that the flag best reflects, and of the conviction that our toleration of criticism . . . is a sign and source of our strength. . . . It is the Nation’s resilience, not its rigidity, that [the government] sees reflected in the flag – and it is that resilience that we reassert today.
. . . . We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents. Johnson, 109 S.Ct. at 2547-48. Imposters such as defendant abase themselves. Fortunately, their disingenuousness is insufficient to undermine the stalwart and unswerving dignity and honor of our true military heroes, and of the military awards that recognize their sacrifices on behalf of a grateful nation.

THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED as follows:
1. That defendant’s Motion To Dismiss Information [#13] filed December 2, 2009, is GRANTED;

2. That The Stolen Valor Act is DECLARED to be facially unconstitutional as a content-based restriction on speech that does not serve a compelling government interest, and consequently that the Act is invalid as violative of the First Amendment;

3. That the Amended Information [#15] filed December 14, 2009, is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; and

4. That the defendant and his bond ARE DISCHARGED.
Dated July 16, 2010, at Denver, Colorado.

So, numbnuts Judge Robert E. Blackburn of the Federal Court District of Colorado, (he was appointed by GW Bush on September 10th 2001 ironically) says that claiming false medal and military service equates to burning the flag – although there is a political message in burning the flag, and none in claiming service and medals. He also claims there are no victims – as I’ve pointed out countless times, there are indeed victims of phonies.

I’ll add more as I read more. Maybe our legal expert will weigh in.

ADDED: From the Denver Post;

Robert Pepin, Strandlof’s attorney, the ACLU of Colorado and the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties group, all filed briefs with Blackburn contesting the Stolen Valor Act.

They argued that simply lying is not illegal.

Category: Phony soldiers

Comments (35)

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  1. NHSparky says:

    To anyone here who says there is no such thing as legislating from the bench–here’s where I call bull. FRAUD is illegal, and claiming to be something you’re not by saying you have earned certain awards, rank, etc., which you have not is merely a precursor to committing fraud, or committing fraud itself.

  2. OldTrooper says:

    Cool! That means if I go to Colorado, I can wear a State Troopers uniform and make all sorts of speeches claiming shit I never did and then be featured in a political campaign ad; right? It’s free speech, after all. Maybe I’ll pass myself off as a federal court judge, too?

  3. NHSparky says:

    Ah, but see, state and federal laws are already in place which prevent people from impersonating LEO’s or officers of the court. Their rice bowl is safe, dontcha know.

  4. Mr Wolf says:

    Old trooper makes a point- I can now wear a badge or star; that impinges on my free speech. Maybe not the whole uniform, but there is nothing that now blocks me from using a badge.

    It’s the same.damn.thing….

  5. Spigot says:

    Hiz Honor (aka Douche Nozzle) Blackburn needs to be kicked in the nuts.

    I’ll be anyone here a cold beer and BBQ dinner that the dip shit never wore the uniform, and if he did by chance, he was a REMF JAG-off who never earned anything beyond a NDSM.

    • Jonn Lilyea says:

      Blackburn’s bio at Wikipedia;

      Robert Edward Blackburn (born 1950) is a United States federal judge.

      Blackburn was born in Lakewood, Colorado. He received a B.A. from Western State College of Colorado in 1972. He received a J.D. from the University of Colorado Law School in 1974. He was in private practice in Las Animas, Colorado from 1975 to 1980. He was a deputy district attorney of Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Colorado from 1980 to 1986. He was a county attorney of Bent County, Colorado from 1980 to 1988. He was a Municipal judge, Town of Kim, Colorado from 1985 to 1988. He was a judge on the Sixteenth Judicial District of Colorado from 1988 to 2002.

      He was in college until the draft ended.

  6. PintoNag says:

    #4 Mr. Wolf:
    There are very specific responsibilities that go with wearing a badge, and the authority is very clearly delineated. It is illegal to wear a current law enforcement badge, unless you are a commissioned officer of the law. (Badges used in the movies and re-enactments are exceptions, but the explanation gets technical.) It is also illegal for a law enforcement officer to abuse his authority — he can’t do anything he wants, and hide behind that badge.
    The difference is, authority figures that act with their authority within the borders of the United States and its protectorates are protected from impersonation. The military, because it acts outside of the US, is not; at least, not at this time. This really isn’t the first time the argument has come up, but we keep hitting this snag with the First Amendment. (For a little interesting reading, check on WWI. There were problems with stolen valor then, too.)
    Now, I understand about the National Guard, and the Coast Guard; there are several “shades of gray,” and yes there are areas of overlapping authority, within the confines of the US. Laws never get any more simple, and that is the case here, too.
    My personal opinion is that the military should be protected from impersonation, just the way law enforcement is.

  7. Sporkmaster says:

    To think that all this time I was deployed I could have stayed home and not missed most of my son’s first/second year and still “earned” my current awards and ribbons? Silly me.

  8. OldTrooper says:

    Sparky and Pinto: That’s what I’m talking about. The Stolen Valor Act is law, yet this judge deems in “unConstitutional”, so just as there are “laws” about impersonating LEOs, there is a law about wearing shit you didn’t earn in the military or impersonating military personnel. That’s the law, same as the law about impersonating a LEO.

    How about if I say I’m a retired cop and I go on the stump for a candidate and make shit up about what I did as a cop, before I retired, and where I stand on current policies within the law enforcement community; does that fall under free speech?

  9. Daniel says:

    I guess I will have a rally and say that I used to be in the ACLU and that we did a lot of illegal activity to include fraud, stealing, and murder while I was in the ACLU. In fact I’ll ask for a congressional hearing to document all these illegal activities conducted while I was at the ACLU.

    It is my constitutional right and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt anyone.

    I just guess honor and integrity no longer matter. Thank you ACLU for a job well done.

  10. Jerry920 says:

    Ok, I am not a lawyer, but doesn’t part of the Stolen Valor Act have to do with the obtaining of goods, services, recompence or benefits by the claming of service, or disability? If that is true, it would appear to me in this case that the judge is way off base, as he doesn’t address the fraud portion of it all. Just wearing medals you didn’t earn, which is bad enough. Most of the prosocutions have been for receiving benefits haven’t they?

  11. PintoNag says:

    OldTrooper tagged me, and I went and did a little more reading. He’s correct; the law indicates that the military should have the same protections from impersonation that the law enforcement community has.
    I also learned that the case being heard in Colorado has attracted the interest of the Rutherford Insitute; this is the same group that is involved in Snyder vs. Phelps, the military funeral protest case.

  12. Scott says:

    How long has it been illegal to possess or wear a Medal of Honor that wasn’t earned? If it can be done for the MoH, I don’t see why it is unconstitutional for other medals, particularly for a douchebag like Strandlof, who was clearly using his charade for personal gain. I can’t see this ruling being upheld. No telling if it’ll affect the outcome, but 7 of the 20 judges for the 10th Circuit are vets. Pretty good chance one of ’em would be on the panel.

  13. JAG says:

    Speaking as an attorney in Virginia, though not on behalf of or in any way for the department of defense, and not having read the actual opinion, I will offer the following initial thoughts:

    The opinion is overbroad. Judicial opinions must stick to the facts presented. That makes the opinion easy to overturn on appeal.

    The opinion is from a district court. I would be concerned if it were from an appellate court (Except the 9th circuit, they get overturned 90% of the time). Since this district court is in the 10th circuit, it will likely get overturned quickly.

    The opinion does not seem to find grounds on which the law can be found constitional, which is reversable error. It is not enough to find that some law might violate some part of the constition, judicial restraint requires that you additionally gather facts about how it could be constitutional and eliminate all of those in deference to the legislative branch that crafted the law and the exectuive that approved it by signature.

    Just some personal, non-official, non-client forming, non-researched thoughts which should be cleared by someone who is paid for their time before being relied upon…

  14. Scott says:

    “Just some personal, non-official, non-client forming, non-researched thoughts which should be cleared by someone who is paid for their time before being relied upon…”

    Spoken like a true lawyer. 😉

    Daniel’s comment reminded me of this:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/aclu-defends-nazis-right-to-burn-down-aclu-headqua,1648/

  15. MD says:

    Does the SVA make it illegal to merely display medals not earned or does it specify that the offender must claim to have earned them?

    to me and anyone else with a shred of common sense it should be the same thing, as to display a medal implies that you earned it, or want peoiple to think you did, either way its scumbag behavior.

    But I can totally and easily see some weenie lib judge allowing a stolen valor yahoo to parade around with a chest full of medals so long as he carefully avoids ever saying “yeah i earned these.”

  16. AW1 Tim says:

    I hope that the judge understands the way Karma works, because he’s just bought himself one hell of a case of “back at ya!” Karma to be delivered in his future. 😉

  17. Scott says:

    “Does the SVA make it illegal to merely display medals not earned or does it specify that the offender must claim to have earned them?”

    Either on its own is a violation:

    “Whoever knowingly wears… any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

    “Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/704.html

  18. Scott says:

    Under the same chapter of the USC that includes the SVA, it’s also illegal to knowingly use or wear without authorization the Red Cross or Red Crescent symbol, 4H leaf, the Swiss confederation coat of arms, the words “federal” “national” or “U.S.” in order to falsely suggest official status of an organization, military uniforms (U.S. and allies), the likeness of Smokey Bear or Woodsey Owl, vets organizations’ badges and medals, the Great Seals, and the Golden Eagle Insignia. But lying to say you earned a bunch of military medals is constitutionally protected? GMAFB.

  19. Ignorant here-does this mean it’s overturned all over or just in CO until reversed?

  20. ponsdorf says:

    An aside to Old Trooper:

    You cracked me up.

  21. GI JANE says:

    So fraudulent claims of military service in the act of grand theft is now protected free speech?

    Does this mean I can pose as a police officer, a doctor, or even an attorney, under the guise of “free speech”. Apparently, that’s what the fucking judge seems to be saying.

  22. Sanmon says:

    It is time to get a Congressional pin and a cheap suit and start giving speeches if this ruling stands. MSM will cover my speeches, it is not like they verify anything.

  23. ignorant also says:

    What would the ruling of the SVA be if a celebrity wore those medals as part of his/her outfit? Would 50 Cent be prosecuted because he wore dress blues in one of his videos?

  24. topgoz says:

    So, if a whole crowd of people showed up in the gallery at Judge Blackburn’s next case wearing robes that look a good deal like judge’s robes, he would say what, exactly? And if said crowd milled about the courthouse acting all legalistic and lawerly and called each other “Your Honor” and gave interviews to the press….

  25. 1stCavRVN11B says:

    So little judgey Bobby Blackburn avoided the draft safe and sound in CO. What a little pissant POS.

  26. B Woodman says:

    I like #10 Daniel’s and #26 topgoz for best ideas.
    Give them libturds a taste of their own medicine, and see how well they like to swallow it.
    Or not.

  27. Bubblehead Ray says:

    Topgoz beat me to it. That was my first thought when I read this bullshit opinion.

  28. Spikeritz says:

    Where can we show up and protest this guy? As a disabled vet from Afghanistan I am pissed. I say we all exercise our right to free speech! “Posers” and those who protect them should be called out and identified. Just us exercising our right to free speech

  29. UpNorth says:

    AS, in #20, just applies to the 10th Federal Circuit, for now. More than likely, it just applies in Judge Blackburn’s court room.

  30. Scott says:

    “AS, in #20, just applies to the 10th Federal Circuit, for now. More than likely, it just applies in Judge Blackburn’s court room.”

    I’d go with the latter. Appeals courts aren’t bound by district court rulings.

  31. Grumpy says:

    Is it my imagination, but I do believe I recognize some of the names here with some real candidate for assistants for a ‘Radical Attitude Adjustment.’ ‘JAG, #14’, agreed, nothing Official, just what you’re comfortable with at this time. “Ladies” get your meds ready, you’ll need them! This is just going to make your day. This judge made his decision, “…With Prejudice.” Therefore, you can NOT appeal this ruling! ‘JAG’, tell me where I’m wrong, PLEASE! This really sucks, no matter how you look at it!

  32. Scott says:

    “Therefore, you can NOT appeal this ruling! ‘JAG’, tell me where I’m wrong, PLEASE!”

    You’re wrong. Dismissed with prejudice just means the charges can’t be refiled; the gov’t still has the right of appeal. Even if they didn’t, there is no other court on which this decision is binding; federal district courts are the low man on the totem pole.

    Strandlof’s attorney expect the ruling to be appealed:
    http://coloradospringsrelocation.org/local-news/stolen-valor-case-dismissal-has-some-wondering-what-happened/

  33. Grumpy says:

    @Scott, #35, I hope you’re right. I read the attached article from Colorado Springs. I hope they appeal it. I believe in the Constitutional Freedoms, though they are freedoms, they are *not* free! At some point in time, a man or woman put their lives on the line that we might have them. There is no way to justify, this individual or this District Court Judge. They have made a mockery of This Nation, Let’s hope we can correct it.