Why Do States Need Stolen Valor Statutes?

A federal law exists, so do individual states really need to enact their own Stolen Valor statutes? That question can only be answered by the citizens of each state. But, each state has a Constitution, laws against things like fraud and murder, as well as a plethora of other state laws which federal laws also address. So, why not codify Stolen Valor into state law as well?

Law enforcement officials and prosecutors across the country reflect the values of the communities they serve. While a few things, like murder, are universal in their being illegal, the states vary even in their individual definitions of that crime. State laws allow the citizens of each state to define the parameters of what is and is not acceptable behavior within their state, which may or may not be the same as any other state. In the case of Stolen Valor, each state gets to say, “It’s not OK to lie about one’s military service.”

But law enforcement and prosecutors can only hold citizens to a standard that is set in law. In the case of Stolen Valor, it has been anecdotally observed that making false claims of military service is invariably only the tip of the iceberg of illegal and unethical behaviors being engaged in by those falsely claiming, or exaggerating, military service. Having a good Stolen Valor statute can be a useful tool for law enforcement to use while they investigate additional illegal behavior.

Will having a law stop Stolen Valor? Of course not. Having laws against murder hasn’t stopped murder either. In the real world, having a law against something doesn’t stop the behavior, but it does allow prosecution of those who violate the law.

Isn’t Stolen Valor a lot like “hate crimes” in that they just enhance some other illegal activity? No, not really. “Hate crimes” relate to the motive for committing an illegal act while Stolen Valor is a most often a method used to commit some other crime. Stolen Valor is a means to an end rather than the motive for committing a crime. Motives are a legitimate legal tool for assessing punishment of a crime. Establishing the means to commit a crime which has not yet been committed is often a crime itself.

We have laws making it illegal to possess the means or having the will to commit various crimes. You can be incarcerated for trying to carry a weapon (the means) into most courthouses around the country without regard to whether there was an intent to use the weapon illegally – the act of having the means is itself illegal. RICO statutes apply when conspiracy (the will) to commit crimes such as fraud or murder can be established but the crimes of fraud or murder have not yet occurred. Stolen Valor can be viewed similarly. It is an avenue to other, perhaps more serious, crimes.

Ultimately it is up to members of each state legislature and the governors of those states to decide if a Stolen Valor statue is appropriate for their state. These are just a few reasons to consider. There are many others.

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