Wearing Unearned Military Medals Is Now ‘Protected Speech’ Under The 1st Amendment


On Monday, a former U.S. Marine left the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with an overturned conviction, and this result sparked controversy in military circles. Attorneys for Elven Joe Swisher had petitioned the court after Swisher was found guilty of violating the Stolen Valor Act. Swisher previously wore an unearned Purple Heart medal while testifying in a murder case involving the death of a federal judge. Officials grew suspicious of claims he made on the stand, and some digging revealed how Swisher invented his medal cred.

The case has been tied up for eight years in legal hell, but Swisher truly went to town with medals he didn’t come close to earning. On the stand, Swisher wore the Silver Star and a few other Navy and Marine Corps honors, but what really did him in was the Purple Heart. Here’s how Swisher got busted while wearing one of the most conspicuous medals in existence:

Swisher testified that David Roland Hinkson offered him $10,000 to kill the federal judge presiding over Hinkson’s tax-evasion case. Swisher said Hinkson was impressed after Swisher boasted that he killed “many men” during the Korean War.

Prosecutors say 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, according to the 9th Circuit ruling.

Swisher’s big mouth led to the investigation, and he was convicted under a misdemeanor for falsifying military accomplishments. While his case was tied up in appeals, a court overturned the portion of the law that criminalized wearing unearned medals. There’s now a new law that prevents using unearned medals for profit, but with the Ninth Circuit’s decision, wearing these medals is now “protected speech.”

The good news (for those upset about this decision) is that the Ninth Circuit is widely considered the most-overturned appeals court in the country. This much maligned court is locked in a battle with the Sixth Circuit to hold on to the dubious title, but who knows? This case could one day become another overturned Ninth Circuit statistic and help reestablish the notoriety.

As one can imagine, Facebook is not happy about unearned military medals now standing as “protected speech” under the 1st Amendment:

(Via LA Times &