United States v. Alvarez

On February 22, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court on a Writ of Certiorari heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Alvarez, Case No.11-210. The question presented is whether the Federal law that makes it a crime to falsely represent oneself to have received the Congressional Medal of Honor is a violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Alvarez was an elected board member of the Pomona, California Municipal Water District when he introduced himself at another water board meeting and falsely stated he was a Marine for 25 years and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Apparently, no one believed him or relied upon his assertions, and he received no benefit from these lies. Yet, he was prosecuted under Federal law, pled guilty reserving the right to appeal, and was placed on probation for three years.

Thereafter, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, 617 F.3d 1198, reversed and held false statements of fact that caused no harm were protected by the First Amendment and, therefore, no crime was committed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Kosinski concurred in the opinion and his reasoning is of particular note, declaring if false statements were unprotected the government could prosecute as crimes the dentist who claims it will not hurt; the person who claims to be Jewish that goes online at a Jewish Date Service; and anyone who states I am working late tonight. In essence, the Court opined free speech in social interaction should not be censored whether it includes exaggerations, white lies or deceptions.

It will now be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the Federal statutory law in question is unconstitutional or the specific restriction on free speech serves a compelling government interest.