A veteran's conviction for wearing military medals he didn't earn was tossed out by a federal appeals court on Monday. The court ruled that wearing unearned military medals was a form of free speech and, therefore, protected by the Constitution.
The decision overturned the conviction of Elven Joe Swisher, a former Marine who testified on the stand in a criminal case wearing a military medal - a Purple Heart. Investigators later determined Swisher had not earned it and violated the Stolen Valor Act.
At the time, it was a misdemeanor to falsely claim military accomplishments. Because of this, Swisher went to trial.
During his 2007 trial, prosecutors showed the jury a photograph of Swisher wearing several military medals and awards, including the Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Ribbon, Purple Heart, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Bronze "V."
It was determined that Swisher enlisted in the Marine Corps a year after the Korean War ended but was never wounded in the line of duty. Swisher was honorably discharged in 1957, and discharge documents indicate that he didn't receive any medals.
The original Stolen Valor Act was struck down in 2012. But since that time, Congress passed a new law making it a crime to profit financially by lying about military service, and President Barack Obama signed it in 2013.
Now, after asking that his conviction be reviewed, a specially convened 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the First Amendment allows people to wear unearned military honors and his conviction was overturned.
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