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People change.  While sometimes considered cliché, this phrase is still undoubtedly true.  You have come a long way from the time of your criminal conviction, and now are possibly considering a name change, or have potentially already undergone a change, maybe in part to throw off the ill feelings of an earlier unfortunate stage in your life.  

People change.  While sometimes considered cliché, this phrase is still undoubtedly true.  You have come a long way from the time of your criminal conviction, and now are possibly considering a name change, or have potentially already undergone a change, maybe in part to throw off the ill feelings of an earlier unfortunate stage in your life.  

You may ask the question of whether changing your name can affect your criminal record?  Is it possible that a name change would make it more difficult for people to link you to your conviction?  In this article, we will explore these criminal law questions. Specifically, we will answer:

  • Is your criminal record permanent?
  • Can you change your name if you have a criminal record?
  • Can changing your name hide a criminal record?
  • What can you do about a criminal record?

To see recent updates to Illinois criminal law, read our full article here.

Is your criminal record permanent?

Yes.  There is a persistent myth that an entry on a criminal record disappears after seven years or some other arbitrary period of time.  This is untrue, and generally speaking your criminal record will be permanently associated with you for the rest of your life, outside very specific scenarios. Something to note is this is equally true of minor misdemeanors and serious felonies. The severity of the crime is not relevant, if it is on your record, it is likely to stay there forever.

Can you change your name if you have a criminal record?

It depends.  Whether you can change your name if you have been convicted of a crime comes to the legal jurisdiction with authority over your name change request, namely the state you are living in, and depending on the jurisdiction the nature and severity of your crime.  To petition a court for a name change, there are several factors that will need to be in place, including you will need to be a resident of the state in which you are bringing the petition.  

Many states will also ask that you answer whether you have a criminal record, and if so, what crimes you have been convicted of. Note simply being arrested, and subsequently, either having the charges dropped or being adjudicated not guilty, will generally not prevent you from changing your name.  

However, depending on the state a criminal conviction may well bar you from changing your name.  For example, in the state of Illinois the relevant name change form will ask you to identify if you are a felon.  If you respond in the affirmative, your name change request will be denied as a matter of law in Illinois.  Florida similarly bars convicted felons from undergoing a name change.  On the other side of the fence, the state of Georgia has no restriction on name changes, and even felons can successfully petition a court to have their name changed.  Many states fall in between this dichotomy, making distinctions regarding the type of crime that was committed.  

Crimes that relate to fraud or misrepresentation are more likely to be found by a state authority as disqualifying for the purposes of name changes.  One thing to note, in every state you will undergo a court process during your name change where your motivations come under scrutiny.  It is never legal to pursue a name change for the purposes of evading prosecution or escaping debt.  If the court believes you are changing your name for such a reason, you could face very serious new charges, as in some states this would alone qualify as a felony.

Can changing your name hide a criminal record?

No.  Put simply, changing your name will not accomplish the goal of hiding a criminal record, and name changes should not be pursued for this purpose.  There are a number of reasons this is the case.  Generally, a state’s name change process will require you to manually update all the relevant public records at the close of your name change, but even without this formal step the criminal record is still tied to your new name.  Background searches, such as those employed professionally by companies vetting potential new hires, will use your Social Security Number to complete the check.  

Changing your name does not alter your Social Security Number, as such your old name and your criminal record will be made available in this situation.  Similarly, police officers performing a background check during a traffic stop or intaking someone who is under arrest will use the individual’s Social Security Number, and your criminal record will be uncovered.  For online searches, be aware that your name on your criminal record is automatically updated with the name change.  As such, you cannot hide a criminal record by changing your name.

What can you do about a criminal record?

Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be steps you can affirmatively take to conceal your criminal record from the public, such as expunging or sealing an entry.  Generally, this is not available for actual convictions of a crime, outside the extraordinary circumstances of an official pardon.  Pardons can only be granted by the Governor of your state or the President of the county, and as such are highly political and extremely unlikely outside remarkable circumstances.  

However, arrests, where the charges are subsequently dropped or ultimately lead to a finding of not guilty, can generally be removed from your record via the process of either expungement or sealing, though again this is different in each jurisdiction.  Note, nothing will be removed from your record unless you actively pursue removing it.  As such, if you have an arrest on your record, you would like taken off, you should speak with a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction to create an action plan.  They will be able to assist you with the unique rules imposed by your locality.

Request a consultation with an experienced name change attorney.  

The qualified attorneys at O’Flaherty Law are ready to help you with your name change question.  With experience in several state across the Midwest, we have insight that can make this a smooth process.  Call our office at (630) 324-6666, email info@flaherty-law.com, or schedule a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers today. You can also fill out our confidential contact form and we will get back to you shortly.  

Posted 
September 22, 2021
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