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No professional courtesy, no court help for ex-cop

A former sheriff’s deputy who tried to get out of a speeding ticket by claiming he was still “on the job” was convicted of impersonating an officer. “Not fair,” he claimed, arguing the law against pretending to be a cop violates the First Amendment because it would criminalize actors in police uniforms and kids playing cops-and-robbers.

Taking his case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, former Fairfax County Dep. Douglas Chappell pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning the law against pretending to have war medals. The principle is the same, he argued.

He only persuaded one of three judges on the appeals court panel.

In an opinion penned by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, the majority found Chappell failed to show any realistic danger of the law being used to lock up actors, children and people at costume parties. The behavior prohibited by Virginia’s police impersonation statute is “closer to conduct than speech,” the court held.

The Stolen Valor Act overturned by the Supreme Court criminalized “pure speech,” the majority said.

Judge James A. Wynn Jr. dissented, saying there is no meaningful distinction between the impact of the Stolen Valor Act and the police impersonation law as applied to Chappell.

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