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Federal judge rules Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional

A federal judge in Denver ruled Friday the federal Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional because it violates free speech rights.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn dismissed the criminal case against Rick Strandlof, a man who lied about being an Iraq war veteran.

It was not immediately clear Friday what effect, if any, the ruling could have on Stolen Valor cases that have already been prosecuted. Those cases include a Hillsborough County man who last month got three years' probation for violating the act.

In the Colorado case, Blackburn rejected the prosecution's argument that lying about having military medals dilutes their meaning and significance.

"This wholly unsubstantiated assertion is frankly, shocking, and indeed, unintentionally insulting to the profound sacrifices of military personnel the Stolen Valor Act purports to honor," Blackburn wrote. "To suggest that the battlefield heroism of our servicemen and women is motivated in any way, let alone in a compelling way, by considerations of whether a medal may be awarded simply defies my comprehension."

The Stolen Valor Act prohibits people from falsely claiming they have been awarded military decorations and medals. Signed into law in 2006, the act carries a punishment ranging from fines to six months in prison.

In Tampa, Angel Manuel Ocasio-Reyes pleaded guilty to violating the Act. Ocasio-Reyes, 48, of Lutz, was charged with wearing military medals and decorations he did not receive. Prosecutors said he wore a sergeant major's uniform bedecked with the Navy Cross, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and other medals.

Blackburn's decision only set precedent in the District of Colorado and further prosecution under the law isn't likely to happen in Colorado unless a higher court strikes down his ruling.

Strandlof, 32, was charged with five misdemeanors related to violating the law, specifically, making false claims about receiving military decorations.

He posed as "Rick Duncan," a wounded Marine captain who received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Strandlof used that persona to found the Colorado Veterans Alliance and solicit funds for the organization.

Federal judge rules Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional 07/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 16, 2010 10:58pm]
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