“I’m a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001,” Mr. Alvarez said at a board meeting. “Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy. I’m still around.”
None of Alvarez’s claims was true, except his last claim that he was still around. He never served in the Marine Corps or any branch of the military, was never wounded in combat, and has never received a medal of any kind, let alone the nation’s highest military award – the Medal of Honor.
After FBI agents obtained a tape recording of the meeting, federal prosecutors charged Alvarez with two counts of violating the Stolen Valor Act.
Alvarez’s lawyer asked a federal judge to dismiss the charges as a violation of the First Amendment. The judge upheld the charges, ruling that the First Amendment does not protect “knowingly false statements.”
The act is narrowly written to ban only “deliberately false statements concerning a very specific subject matter,” the judge said.
Alvarez pleaded guilty, but reserved the right to appeal the First Amendment issue. He was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
A panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction in a 2-to-1 vote and declared the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional.
The appeals court’s two-judge majority, Judges Milan Smith and Thomas Nelson, said they were concerned that the act might open the door to broader government restrictions on lying.