Rules about wearing military medals again pass 9th Circuit test

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A law barring the unauthorized wearing of military medals doesn’t violate the First Amendment, a federal appeals court panel has ruled for a second time.

In its Aug. 28 amended opinion, which took note of a recent related U.S. Supreme Court decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that such deceptive conduct does not infringe on free-speech rights.

David M. Perelman served in Vietnam for three months in 1971. Twenty years later, he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh and later claimed that he sustained the injury during his service in Vietnam. He then obtained a Purple Heart and eventually collected more than $180,000 in disability benefits from the Veterans Administration.

After the government learned of the fraud, it prosecuted him for falsely obtaining disability benefits and for violating the federal law that criminalizes the unauthorized wearing of military medals.

Perelman argued that the military-medals law was unconstitutional. A federal district court denied Perelman’s motion and he pleaded guilty on both charges. However, he reserved the right to appeal the denial of his constitutional arguments concerning the military-medals law.

He claimed that the law was unconstitutional on its face because it was too broad and could lead to the prosecution of an actor — or even a grieving spouse — who wore a medal.

On appeal, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit issued its first ruling in United States v. Perelman.  on Sept. 11, 2011. The panel upheld the lower court’s decision.

In the meantime the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012 issued its opinion in United States v. Alvarez (2012), invalidating a related federal law, called the Stolen Valor Act, which prohibited the making of false statements about having received military medals.

This week, the 9th Circuit panel issued an amended opinion in the Perelman case. In its Aug. 28 ruling,  the 9th Circuit reached the same result as it did last September but specifically distinguished its case from the Supreme Court’s decision in Alvarez. The 9th Circuit said Alvarez concerned a law that prohibited pure speech. “The distinction between pure speech and conduct that has an expressive element separates this case from Alvarez,” the 9th Circuit panel wrote.

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