A federal court in California overturned an ex-marine’s conviction for wearing service medals he didn’t earn, saying the First Amendment protects the action.
The case involved Elven Joe Swisher, an Idaho man who was convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act in 2007. Swisher enlisted in the marines about a year after the Korean War ended, but was honorably discharged without any awards, according to court documents.
Swisher’s 2007 conviction came after the ex-marine wore a Purple Heart in a murder trial, apparently to boost his credibility as a witness, the New York Times reports. Before that, Swisher filed a disability claim for post-traumatic stress in which he said he received a Purple Heart from a captain and earned several other honors, according to the Times. The government stopped making his disability payments when it found Mr. Swisher’s claims about earning the medals were false.
Monday’s ruling said iconic symbols are intended as a “short cut from mind to mind” when conveying ideas, and that “wearing a medal has no purpose other than to communicate a message.”