I have previously criticized past prosecutions for stolen valor (here and here) as a threat to the first amendment. Such cases are deterred through social stigma and simple research. We have criminal laws allowing for the prosecution of those who use false claims to secure financial gain or benefits. Such is the case with former Marine Brandon Blackstone, who stole a combat veteran’s story of valor to secure a house and benefits. He is now facing 21 years in jail for his crimes in assuming the valor of Casey Owens, left, who lost both legs in combat. Blackstone served in the same unit as Owens.
Owens lost his legs to an anti-tank mine in 2004 and was awarded the Purple Heart. After battling physical and mental pain, he took his own life ten years later in 2014.
Blackstone claimed that he was injured in the Humvee explosion in Iraq and suffered traumatic brain injury. He was given a home and benefits as a result. His mistake was showing a picture of the mangled Humvee to one of Owens’ Marine buddies who witnessed the explosion. All of the years of speaking to groups about his valor came crashing down and he ultimately pleaded guilty to the federal charges that were based on his accepting a home and receiving disability benefits.
Blackstone actually left Iraq with simple appendicitis.
The Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act. In United States v. Alvarez, No. 11-210, the Court held 6-3 that it is unconstitutional to criminalize lies — in that case lying about receiving military decorations or medals. The Blackstone case shows that, when people use such claims for financial gain, they have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
What do you think the appropriate punishment should be for Blackstone?