United States v. Alvarez Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Defendant, Alvarez (Defendant), was convicted of conspiring to transport marijuana to the United States from Columbia based on his participation in unloading the drugs from a pick-up truck prior to their being put on a United States bound airplane.

Facts of the case

“On July 23, 2007, Xavier Alvarez, a member of the Three Valleys Water District Board of Directors, attended a joint meeting with the Walnut Valley Water District Board of Directors at the Board’s headquarters. Mr. Alvarez was invited to speak about his background, and he stated, “”I’m a retired marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.”” In fact, Mr. Alvarez had not received the Congressional Medal of Honor, nor any other military medal or decoration. He had also had never served in the United States Armed Forces.The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 makes it a crime to falsely claim receipt of military decorations or medals. On September 26, 2007, Mr. Alvarez was charged in the Central District of California with two counts of falsely representing that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in violation the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. Mr. Alvarez moved to dismiss on the grounds that the statute violated his first amendment right to free speech. The district court denied Alvarez’s motion to dismiss. The respondent thereafter pleaded guilty, but reserved his right to appeal.Alvarez appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the court reversed and remanded the lower court’s decision. It reasoned that the Supreme Court had never held that the government may prohibit speech simply because it is knowingly false and that some knowingly false speech could have affirmative constitutional value. The court of appeals denied the government’s request for rehearing. Thereafter, the government appealed the court of appeals’ decision.”


Is circumstantial evidence alone sufficient to prove the agreement element of a conspiracy charge?


Yes. Affirmed. A jury may properly have concluded that the Defendant’s intended presence at the unloading site in the United States was evidence of a prior agreement by the Defendant to assist in the criminal conspiracy. The Defendant cannot escape criminal liability solely on the basis that he did not join a criminal conspiracy until well after its inception or played only a minor role therein.


Although content-based restrictions on speech was permitted for incitement, obscenity, defamation, speech integral to criminal conduct, so-called “fighting words”, child pornography, fraud, true threats, and speech presenting some grave and imminent threats the Government had the power to prevent, a general exception for all false statements was not recognized. Permitting the Government to criminalize the speech in question would have endorsed Government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements were punishable.

  • Case Brief: 2012
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Xavier Alvarez
  • Decided by: Roberts Court

Citation: 567 US _ (2012)
Granted Oct 17, 2011
Argued: Feb 22, 2012
Decided: Jun 28, 2012