Court Says 'Stolen Valor Act' Is Unconstitutional

From the Associated Press:

LINCOLN, Neb. — A criminal case has been dismissed against a Nebraska veteran accused of lying about his military record.

A federal judge in Maryland ruled in August that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was unconstitutional and dismissed the case against Aaron Lawless, an Iraq War veteran from Gothenburg, the Lincoln Journal Star reported Saturday. The government is appealing.

Court records filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., say Lawless claimed to have won four Purple Hearts, two Bronze Star Medals and a Silver Star Medal. As a result of those claims, gun manufacturer Glock gave Lawless an award in 2008 along with plane tickets to Las Vegas, hotel accommodations and two pistols.

But federal officials who investigated Lawless’ claims found they were false, according to a criminal complaint. Under the Stolen Valor Act, falsely claiming to have earned a military medal is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.

Lawless’ attorneys, James Wyda and Susan Bauer, argued the act violates constitutional rights to free speech because it can be applied to mistakes and bragging.

Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo agreed.

“While it is highly unlikely that anything but the most egregious violations of the act would be prosecuted, the constitutionality … is not to be determined on assumptions of how prosecutors will, in their discretion, enforce it,” he wrote in his decision.

The District of Maryland is the third federal court to deem the act unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado also have done so.

Lawless joined the Army in March 2005 and was sent to Iraq. He was awarded an Infantry Badge and the Iraqi Freedom Campaign Ribbon but no other military awards.

In July 2006, Lawless was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a pre-existing brain lesion. During his recuperation, Lawless worked at a Maryland gun store, where he made the false statements about his military records, according to court records.

Lawless’ attorneys said he now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has other mental health issues.

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