A judge in Denver has ruled that a federal law making it illegal to lie about being a war hero is unconstitutional because it violates free speech.
The ruling, made public Friday, came in the case of Rick Glen Strandlof, a Colorado man who claimed he was an ex-Marine wounded in Iraq and had received the Purple Heart and Silver Star. The military had no record that Strandlof served.
Strandlof was charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it illegal to falsely claim to have won a military medal. The judge dismissed the case, saying the government hadn't shown it has a compelling reason to restrict that type of statement.
Prosecutors said they haven't decided whether to appeal. Strandlof's lawyer didn't immediately return a call.
"I think it's an absurdity to think anybody can lie about their background for any reason, misrepresent their record,"said Rancho Bernardo resident Thomas Richards.
The retired Marine Lt. Colonel investigates phony war heroes like Strandlof. Richards says in many cases the military fakes are looking for compensation of some kind.
"Many times being elevated in military organizations, civil organizations, non-profit organizations, rising to leadership based on fraudulent qualifications,"Richards said.
But San Diego attorney Guylyn Cummins says if the phony war hero is committing some type of fraud then there are already laws against that.
She says the problem with the Stolen Valor Act is that it can also punish people who are trying to make a statement and that's where it violates the first amendment.
"For example, if a mother wears a purple heart and marches in a protest against war, she might be prosecuted under this statute because she's wearing a purple heart to convey a very different message,"Cummins pointed out.
The ruling could affect some cases that were recently prosecuted in San Diego County, including that of David Weber, 69, who in April was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a $500 fine. The retired Marine pleaded guilty to a charge of making false claims about military decorations or medals. He was also ordered to perform 240 hours of community service.
Weber was busted after attending a Veterans of Foreign Wars event in Ramona last November. At the ceremony, which was a celebration of the Marine Corps birthday, Weber wore a full dress Marine generals uniform adorned with numerous medals and was honored by being offered the first piece of cake.