A federal appeals court on Monday overturned a veteran’s conviction for wearing military medals he did not earn, saying wearing the medals conveys a message that is protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Elven Joe Swisher of Idaho was convicted in 2007 of violating the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a misdemeanor to falsely claim veteran status or military accomplishments.
In 2005, Mr. Swisher wore a Purple Heart when he testified in a criminal court case, prompting investigators to look in to his military background, The Associated Press reported.
Prosecutors say Mr. Swisher enlisted in the Marine Corps a year after the Korean War ended, but he was never wounded in the line of duty. He was honorably discharged in 1957. Military discharge documents indicate that he did not receive any medals.
During a 2007 trial for violating the Stolen Valor Act, prosecutors showed the jury a photo of Mr. Swisher wearing several medals and awards, including the Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Ribbon, Purple Heart, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Bronze “V,” AP reported.
The Stolen Valor Act, first signed by President George W. Bush in 2006, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012 as a violation of free speech protections.
Congress passed a new law in 2013 making it illegal to receive financial benefits by lying about military service.