Claremont Insider: Uncommon Valor

Monday, July 19, 2010

Uncommon Valor

Old friend Xavier Alvarez (pictured, right) is back in the news. Alvarez, the former Three Valleys Municipal Water District boardmember from Pomona, courtesy of Assemblywoman Norma Torres, was convicted in May 2008 in federal court for having lied about being a Medal of Honor recipient. For violating the federal Stolen Valor Act, Alvarez was sentenced to five months home detention. The conviction was a misdemeanor.

The Denver Post reported Saturday that a federal judge in Colorado has ruled the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment. In the Colorado case, defendant Rick Strandlof was accused of falsely claiming that he was an Iraqi war vet and that he had received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Strandlof had been soliciting donations to a charity he had created under a false name.

Strandlof argued that the Stolen Valor Act was an abridgment of his right to free speech, and civil liberties activists filed briefs in support of Strandlof. The Post article quoted an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union:

Attorney Chris Beall, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the ACLU of Colorado, said the decision is remarkable.

"The First Amendment protects speech we don't like," he said. "We don't need the First Amendment for speech people like. The government cannot criminalize a statement simply because it is false, no matter how important the statement is."

Beall points out Strandlof wasn't charged with stealing money meant for the veterans group, adding that laws are already in place for those crimes.

"That's plain-old, regular-vanilla everyday fraud, and we do prosecute that every day," he said. "Congress does not need a special statute to prevent people from using false claims of valor in order to prevent fraud."

Here is Judge Robert Blackburn's ruling in the Strandlof case (Alvarez gets a mention):

According to the Post article, the precedent set in Judge Blackburn's ruling only applies to District of Colorado. Alvarez filed his own appeal in his Stolen Valor conviction, and that appeal is still pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

No matter what happens with Alvarez's appeal, his local felony convictions still stand for misappropriation of public funds, grand theft, and insurance fraud. Alvarez was convicted in September 2009 and received a sentence of five years in state prison.