This is a different sort of case than what is usually covered on this blog, but it certainly is interesting and worth discussing. In a recent ruling, a U.S. District Judge in Colorado ruled that it is not a crime to misrepresent oneself as a military member or veteran.
The decision followed a case involving Colorado man Rick Glen Strandlof, who reportedly represented himself as an Iraq war veteran and 9/11 survivor who had earned two medals of honor for his military service. It was found out that he was lying when no records of him or his service were found by the military.
Strandlof, therefore, is a proven liar. But should his lie be considered a crime?
According to proponents of the Stolen Valor Act, Strandlof’s false representation should be deemed a crime. The Stolen Valor Act criminalizes lying about military service and is the reason why Strandlof was arrested in October, 2009. His lies almost got him up to one year in prison and ordered to pay as much as $100,000 in fines.
Fortunately for Strandlof, the U.S. District Judge in Colorado was not sold on the credibility of the Stolen Valor Act. He dismissed the case because he believes the law is unconstitutional. According to the judge, it is within Strandlof’s First Amendment rights to say he was in the military, and his actions did not hurt anyone.
Challengers of the judge’s decision argue that the issue at hand in this case is not freedom of speech. Strandlof’s lies secured him a position as the leader of a veterans group, and because he made money through that work, the judge should have seen the situation as a case of fraud.
As of now, Strandlof is off the hook for his lies, but there is a lingering threat on behalf of the prosecution that an appeal might be in the works.
The Associated Press: Judge: Law penalizing fake heroes unconstitutional
The Dallas Morning News: When freedom of speech, lies collide