Minn. appeals court rejects felon’s request for name change

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

If you want to change your name, you’ll have better luck if you have a felony-free record.

That appears to be one lesson from a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision in which the court gave more weight to public-safety concerns than an individual’s claimed religious-liberty rights.

William R. Iverson filed a request to change his name to Nuh Isa Riyaahwa. He claimed that the name change was inspired in part by his religious beliefs. A Minnesota law provides that individuals can apply for a name change after they have resided in the state for six months. If the person proves his or her identity with at least two witnesses, the courts generally must grant such requests.

However, another Minnesota law spelled trouble for Iverson. It says that where a name-change request will “compromise public safety,” the applicant can make the change only by showing clear and convincing evidence that the change will not harm public safety.

Unfortunately for Iverson, his past came into play. He had been convicted of numerous felonies, including assault, criminal damage to property, second-degree murder, aggravated assault and first-degree burglary.

Iverson countered that his name change will not harm public safety, because he is civilly confined and under supervised release until 2014. He also pointed out that a department of corrections official would be notified of his new name. A lower court denied his request, reasoning that the public had a “strong, legitimate interest” in Iverson keeping the “same name as that under which he was convicted of those crimes.”

The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed, ruling in In Re Iverson against the name change. The appeals court said the lower court was correct in emphasizing “Iverson’s history of violent crimes.”

The appeals court also rejected the religious-freedom claim, agreeing with the lower court that “the name change is not necessary for the exercise of Iverson’s religion.” The religion is not specified.

The appeals court pointed out that Iverson changed religions in 2006, but did not request the name change until 2010 and that before the lower court he failed to explain how the name change was necessary to his religious practice.

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