GRABER, Circuit Judge:
Defendant David M. Perelman fraudulently obtained a Purple Heart and wore it in public. The government indicted him for violating 18 U.S.C. § 704(a), which prohibits (among other things) the unauthorized wearing of military medals. Defendant pleaded guilty but reserved his right to appeal the district court's rejection of his First Amendment facial challenge to the statute. Reviewing de novo the constitutionality of the statute, United States v.
Defendant served in Vietnam for approximately three months in 1971. Twenty years later, he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh. He later claimed that the self-inflicted gunshot wound was a shrapnel injury sustained during his service in Vietnam. The United States Air Force awarded him a Purple Heart and other medals in 1994. Because of his receipt of the Purple Heart and other medals, the Veterans Administration gave Defendant more than $180,000 in disability benefits. The government alleged that Defendant wore a Purple Heart to a national convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After the government discovered the fraud, it indicted Defendant on two counts. Count One alleged that Defendant stole from the Veterans Administration by obtaining disability benefits under false pretenses, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641. Count Two alleged that Defendant wore the Purple Heart "without authorization under regulations made pursuant to law," in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 704(a).
Defendant moved to dismiss Count Two on the ground that the statute facially violates the First Amendment. The district court denied the motion. Defendant thereafter admitted the factual allegations and pleaded guilty to both counts. Defendant waived all his rights to appeal except for the right to appeal the district court's denial of his motion to dismiss Count Two.
The district court sentenced Defendant to imprisonment of 12 months and one day on Count One and imprisonment of 10 months on Count Two, to be served concurrently. The district court also sentenced Defendant to three years' supervised release on Count One and one year's supervised release on Count Two, to be served concurrently.
Defendant timely appeals. We granted the motion of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada to become amicus curiae in support of Defendant.
Title 18 U.S.C. § 704 states, in relevant part:
Enhanced penalties apply to violations involving certain medals, including the Purple Heart. Id. § 704(c), (d).
Defendant pleaded guilty to the portion of subsection (a) that criminalizes the act of "knowingly wear[ing]" a medal: "Whoever knowingly wears . . . any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the
"The first step in overbreadth analysis is to construe the challenged statute; it is impossible to determine whether a statute reaches too far without first knowing what the statute covers." Williams, 553 U.S. at 293, 128 S.Ct. 1830. The challenged statute states: "Whoever knowingly wears . . . any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States . . . or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law," is guilty of a crime. 18 U.S.C. § 704(a). By its terms, anyone who "knowingly wears" a military medal or "colorable imitation thereof" has committed a crime, "except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law." Id.
The parties have directed us to very few regulations authorizing the wearing of medals. Under those regulations, the valid recipient of a military medal is the only person who may wear the medal. See, e.g., 32 C.F.R. § 507.12(a) ("The wearing of any decoration, service medal, badge, service ribbon, lapel button, or insignia prescribed or authorized by the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force by any person not properly authorized to wear such device . . . is prohibited." (emphasis added)); Army Regulation 670-1, available at http://www.apd.army.mil/ pdffiles/r670_1.pdf, Rule 1-4(d) ("[N]o person except a member of the U.S. Army may wear the uniform, or a distinctive part of the uniform of the U.S. Army unless otherwise authorized by law."). To our knowledge, there are no regulations permitting any person other than the valid recipient to wear a military medal in any circumstances.
Defendant asserts, then, that any person other than the valid recipient who wears a military medal, or a colorable imitation thereof, is guilty of a crime, regardless of context or circumstances. From that premise, Defendant and amicus provide a long list of examples of conduct that one typically thinks of as harmless or protected speech, but that would constitute a crime under Defendant's reading of the
The statute could be read as broadly as Defendant suggests. We agree with Defendant that such a broad statute might raise serious constitutional concerns. See id. (holding that a federal law criminalizing the possession of animal cruelty videos and photographs was facially overbroad because the statute "applies to common depictions of ordinary and lawful activities, and that these depictions constitute the vast majority of materials subject to the statute"). Because Defendant's reading raises a "serious doubt" as to the statute's constitutionality, we must "first ascertain whether a construction of the statute is fairly possible by which the question may be avoided." Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 689, 121 S.Ct. 2491, 150 L.Ed.2d 653 (2001) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Whether as a matter of pure statutory interpretation, constitutional avoidance, or both, we disagree with Defendant's expansive reading of the statute. In our view, Congress intended to criminalize the unauthorized wearing of medals only when the wearer intends to deceive. We draw our conclusion from the fact that the statute requires that a person "knowingly wear[ ]" a medal "or any colorable imitation thereof." 18 U.S.C. § 704(a) (emphases added). Read in context, it is clear that Congress sought to prevent the deceptive use of military medals. The statute does not aim to preserve only the correct use of valid military medals, that is, the physical objects sanctioned by the government. By prohibiting the wearing of a colorable imitation and by including a scienter requirement, Congress made clear that deception was its targeted harm. See United States v. Goeltz, 513 F.2d 193, 197 (10th Cir.1975) (interpreting the very similarly worded provision at 18 U.S.C. § 701, which criminalizes unauthorized possession of government identifications or colorable imitations thereof,
Because the statute requires an intent to deceive, the examples listed above do not fall within the scope of the statute. For instance, because the grieving widow, the proud grandchild, the actor on stage, and the protestor lack an intent to deceive, the wearing of the medals in those circumstances does not fall within the criminal statute. Accordingly, Defendant's facial overbreadth challenge fails.
Defendant also argues that our recent decision in United States v. Alvarez, 617 F.3d 1198 (9th Cir.2010), petition for cert. filed, 80 U.S.L.W. 3098 (U.S. Aug. 18, 2011) (No. 11-210), compels us to conclude that § 704(a) is facially invalid. In Alvarez, we considered the constitutionality of § 704(b), which criminalizes false statements about the receipt of military decorations or medals. We began by recognizing that the case concerned pure speech. See id. at 1202 (holding that "[t]he Act is plainly a content-based regulation of speech," because the Act regulates "only words . . . about a specific subject: military honors" (internal quotation marks, ellipsis, and citation omitted)). The government did not challenge that conclusion but argued, instead, that false statements are not protected by the First Amendment. Id. at 1202-03. According to the government and the dissent, false statements are not protected by the First Amendment except in certain narrow categories not implicated by the facts of that case. See id. at 1231 (Bybee, J., dissenting). The majority rejected that view. In its view, "we presumptively protect all speech against government interference, leaving it to the government to demonstrate, either through a well-crafted statute or case-specific application, the historical basis for or a compelling need to remove some speech from protection." Id. at 1205 (majority opinion).
The majority then surveyed the historical categories of exclusion from First Amendment protection and found that the defendant's statement did not fall into any category. Id. at 1206-14. The majority held that defamation lacks constitutional protection because of the existence of elements beyond mere falsity, namely, publicity and harm to a victim. Id. at 1210. Similarly, "impersonation statutes are drafted to apply narrowly to conduct performed in order to obtain, at a cost to another, a benefit to which one is not entitled." Id. at 1212 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 912). "Unlike [certain] uncontroversial criminal laws, however, [§ 704(b) ] makes criminal the speech itself regardless of any defining context that assures us the law targets legitimately criminal conduct." Id. at 1213.
Our decision in Alvarez under § 704(b) does not control the question whether § 704(a) is facially overbroad. The starting point for our analysis in Alvarez was the recognition that § 704(b) criminalizes pure speech. The critical part of the reasoning was that § 704(b) "makes criminal the speech itself regardless of any defining context." Id. We also found it important that § 704(b) lacks "a scienter requirement
By contrast, here, Defendant effectively argues that the First Amendment protects the fraudster's knowingly fraudulent activity: knowingly wearing a military medal without authorization and with intent to deceive. Whereas § 704(b) criminalizes pure speech, § 704(a) criminalizes certain specified activities
By contrast, Supreme Court precedent strongly suggests that § 704(a) survives First Amendment scrutiny. In Schacht v. United States, 398 U.S. 58, 90 S.Ct. 1555, 26 L.Ed.2d 44 (1970), the Supreme Court addressed a constitutional challenge to 18 U.S.C. § 702, which bars the unauthorized wearing of military uniforms. The Court held that an implementing regulation that permitted actors to wear uniforms only if they did not criticize the government was unconstitutional. Id. at 63, 90 S.Ct. 1555. But the Court began its analysis by noting that "[o]ur previous cases would seem to make it clear that 18 U.S.C. § 702, making it an offense to wear our military uniforms without authority is, standing alone, a valid statute on its face." Id. at 61, 90 S.Ct. 1555 (citing United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 88 S.Ct. 1673, 20 L.Ed.2d 672 (1968)).
Defendant here does not challenge an implementing regulation, as the defendant in Schacht had. Instead, Defendant challenges § 704(a) on its face. The Supreme Court's dictum concerning § 702 strongly suggests that, like that statute, § 704(a) "is, standing alone, a valid statute on its face." Id.; see Coeur O'Alene Tribe of Idaho v. Hammond, 384 F.3d 674, 683 (9th Cir.2004) ("[O]ur precedent requires that we give great weight to dicta of the Supreme Court.").
Under O'Brien, "a government regulation is sufficiently justified if it is within the constitutional power of the Government; if it furthers an important or substantial governmental interest; if the governmental interest is unrelated to the suppression of free expression; and if the incidental restriction on alleged First Amendment freedoms is no greater than is essential to the furtherance of that interest." 391 U.S. at 377, 88 S.Ct. 1673. Defendant does not dispute that the regulation of military medals is within the power of the government. And we recently held in Alvarez that the government has a compelling interest in "preserving the integrity of its system of honoring our military men and women for their service and, at times, their sacrifice." 617 F.3d at 1216. The government similarly has a compelling interest
The final prong of the O'Brien test asks whether "the incidental restriction on alleged First Amendment freedoms is no greater than is essential to the furtherance of that interest." 391 U.S. at 377, 88 S.Ct. 1673. The Court has explained more recently that "`an incidental burden on speech is no greater than is essential, and therefore is permissible under O'Brien, so long as the neutral regulation promotes a substantial government interest that would be achieved less effectively absent the regulation.' " Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Inst'l Rights, Inc., 547 U.S. 47, 67, 126 S.Ct. 1297, 164 L.Ed.2d 156 (2006) (quoting United States v. Albertini, 472 U.S. 675, 689, 105 S.Ct. 2897, 86 L.Ed.2d 536 (1985)). Here, that test is met because, even if § 704(a) is not the most effective mechanism, in at least some measure it promotes the goals of maintaining the integrity of the military's medals and preventing the fraudulent wearing of military medals.
We therefore reject Defendant's facial First Amendment challenge to 18 U.S.C. § 704(a).
Defendant's only argument on this point is that the district courts and the government have expressed varying views "regarding how a person obtains authorization to wear a medal pursuant to § 704." Assuming that there is ambiguity as to how to request authorization, that does not render the criminal provision vague or ambiguous. Even if there is uncertainty concerning how one could obtain authorization, the statute makes clear that a person who has not received authorization may not wear a medal. Defendant does not assert, and cannot assert, that a class of persons exists who are uncertain whether the authorization that they have received is valid; Defendant's arguments all concern persons who have not received any authorization at all. The statute is not vague with respect to them.
Section 704(a) states: "Whoever knowingly wears . . . any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, . . . or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law," is guilty of a crime.