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Facts and Case Summary

Facts and case summary for U.S. v. Alvarez.

FACTS

In 2007, Xavier Alvarez, an elected member of a water district board in California, identified himself at a public meeting as a retired U.S. Marine who had been wounded in combat many times and had received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

"I'm a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001," Mr. Alvarez said at a public meeting of the board. "Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy."

None of Alvarez's claims was true. He never served in the Marine Corps or any branch of the military, was never wounded in combat, and has never received a medal of any kind, including the nation's highest military award – the Medal of Honor. Alvarez had previously boasted, untruly, that he played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and that he once married a starlet from Mexico.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

After FBI agents obtained a tape recording of the meeting, federal prosecutors charged Alvarez with two counts of violating the Stolen Valor Act. Alvarez's lawyer argued that the Stolen Valor Act was invalid under the First Amendment and, therefore, the case should be dismissed. The trial court rejected this argument. Alvarez was tried and convicted in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. He was sentenced to probation for three years and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. He was the first person convicted under the Stolen Valor Act.

Alvarez appealed the First Amendment issue, claiming that the Stolen Valor law violated the First Amendment and, therefore, his conviction was unlawful. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Alvarez and reversed his conviction, declaring the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional in a vote of 2-to-1.

The government appealed the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, which agreed to hear it. After the Court agreed to hear the case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, ruling in a different case, declared the Stolen Valor Act constitutional in a vote of 2-to-1.

Oral arguments were heard on February 22, 2012.

ISSUE

Whether the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to lie about receiving military medals or honors, violates the First Amendment's guarantee of the right to free speech.

Read how the Supreme Court decided in U.S. v. Alvarez here.