St. Mary's Law Journal


Over the years, civilians and members of the military have falsely claimed honors “stealing” the valor, reputation and benefits bestowed upon actual medal recipients. Lawmakers have historically addressed this problem of stolen valor with criminal prosecution. In 2005, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act, making it illegal for an individual to lie about receiving military awards. However, the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was challenged in United States v. Alvarez. The Supreme Court of the United States found that the act violated the First Amendment because it was a content-based restriction on speech regarding military service. Therefore, the Government had the burden to prove the statute’s constitutionality—a burden which it failed to meet. Subsequently, Congress amended the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 to ensure that it would more likely survive constitutional scrutiny. Still, only a small number of stolen valor cases have resulted in legal action. Thus far, criminal prosecution has been ineffective in deterring and punishing perpetrators of stolen valor; and it provides an incomplete answer to the complex problem of military impersonators. Therefore, it is worth exploring whether civil liability is a better solution. Principles of tort law can limit the scope of civil liability for stolen valor cases. Practitioners and lawmakers should actively consider and propose civil tort liability for stolen valor cases in order to hinder the growing number of military imposters. Tort claims can potentially provide compensation to those injured by these military deceptions while deterring imposters from lying in the first place. Tort law principles may not apply in all stolen valor cases. Nonetheless, pursuing such recourse—when applicable—will assist in punishing and deterring military imposters, while compensating those injured in meritorious cases.


St. Mary's University School of Law