United States v. Strandlof, No. 10-1358 (10th Cir. 2012)Annotate this Case
Appellant Rick Strandlof was charged under the Stolen Valor Act (18 U.S.C. 704(b)) which makes it illegal to falsely claim to have received a military award or honor. The issue before the Tenth Circuit was whether the Act is constitutional. Despite never having served in the armed forces, Appellant founded the Colorado Veterans Alliance, and frequently told veterans he graduated from the United States Naval Academy, was a former U.S. Marine Corps Captain, and had been wounded in combat in Iraq. He bragged of receiving a Purple Heart, and he boasted that he had been awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in battle. A number of local veterans found Appellant to be an unconvincing imposter. Angered by Appellant's lies, they contacted the FBI and reported their suspicion that Appellant was a phony. After military officials confirmed Appellant never attended the Naval Academy or served in the military, the government filed a criminal complaint in the District of Colorado charging him with making false claims about receipt of military decorations or medals, in violation of the Act. Reasoning that false statements are generally protected by the First Amendment, the district court declared the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional and dismissed the charges against Appellant. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with that reading of Supreme Court precedent and reversed: "[a]s the Supreme Court has observed time and again, false statements of fact do not enjoy constitutional protection, except to the extent necessary to protect more valuable speech. Under this principle, the Stolen Valor Act does not impinge on or chill protected speech, and therefore does not offend the First Amendment."
The court issued a Revised version of this opinion on July 2, 2012.