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Court rules wearing unearned military medals is free speech

In 2012, the Supreme Court struck down a 2006 measure outlawing false claims of military accomplishments, saying it was a violation of free speech.
By Fred Lambert Contact the Author   |   Jan. 12, 2016 at 3:15 PM

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- A U.S. federal appeals court tossed out a conviction of a veteran who wore unearned military decorations, saying it was a form of free speech protected under the Constitution.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling on Monday in the case of United States of America v. Elven Joe Swisher.

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in 2007, Swisher was convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act, a measure outlawing false claims of military accomplishments. The law was signed by former President George W. Bush in 2006, but the Supreme Court struck it down in 2012 as a violation of the First Amendment.

President Barack Obama signed a new measure in 2013 making it a crime to lie about military service for financial gain, but Congress later removed a provision making it illegal to wear unearned medals.

Swisher had reportedly testified in the 2005 trial of a man he said offered $10,000 to kill a judge presiding over a tax-evasion case. Swisher -- who told the suspect he had killed several enemy troops in the Korean War -- wore a Purple Heart medal while on the witness stand.

Court documents indicate Swisher enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on Aug. 4, 1954, a little over a year after the Korean War ended, and was given an honorable discharge in 1957. His discharge form, known as a DD-214, listed no medals.

In 2001, Swisher filed a disability claim for service-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which he said was the result of his participation in a "secret combat mission in North Korea in August or September 1955." He said he was wounded in the operation and received a Purple Heart from an unnamed captain in a hospital, as well as a Silver Star and a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal with a bronze "V" for valor.

The Veterans Administration denied the claim but later reversed position in 2004 after Swisher provided an amended copy of his DD-214 that corroborated his account. The document was later found to be fraudulent.

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