Wearing unearned medals is protected by 1st Amendment, appeals court rules

A military veteran persuaded a federal appeals court Monday to overturn his conviction for wearing a medal he didn’t earn.

An 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a portion of a federal law that made it a crime to wear an unearned military medal violated freedom of speech rights.

The panel found that wearing a medal conveys a message, which is protected by the 1st Amendment.

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The decision overturned the conviction of Elven Joe Swisher,  an Idaho man and former Marine who testified on the stand in a criminal case wearing a military medal. Investigators later determined Swisher had not earned it and violated the Stolen Valor Act.

In 2012, the  U.S. Supreme Court overturned another portion of the act that made it a crime to lie about having won a military medal.  Since Swisher’s conviction, the law no longer penalizes people for wearing unearned medals.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

Twitter: @mauradolan

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