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Jordan v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

February 22, 2018

BRIAN WENDALL JORDAN
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GRAYSON COUNTY H. Lee Harrell, Judge

          PRESENT: Goodwyn, Mims, McClanahan, Powell, Kelsey, and McCullough, JJ., and Lacy, S.J.

          OPINION

          STEPHEN R. McCULLOUGH JUSTICE

         Brian Wendall Jordan, an inmate, filed a petition to change his name. The trial court denied his petition, and Jordan asks us to reverse this decision. For the reasons stated below, we affirm the trial court's decision.

         BACKGROUND

         Brian Wendall Jordan was sentenced to a lengthy term of incarceration after he was convicted of several serious offenses: malicious wounding, robbery, first degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding, and burglary. A stipulation of facts indicates that, in one instance, he forced his way into the home of an elderly woman, choked her, and severely beat her while demanding her money. He also broke into the home of an elderly couple and badly beat them, again to obtain money. One of his victims died from the heavy blows Jordan inflicted upon him.

         After undergoing a religious conversion, he filed a petition in the circuit court to change his name to Abdul-Wakeel Mutawakkil Jordan. He added, however, that "he would not be hindered from the free exercise of his religion if not allowed to change his name." The court found good cause to accept the petition, Code § 8.01-217(D), and ordered the Commonwealth to respond. The Commonwealth's Attorneys for both Grayson County and the City of Chesapeake opposed thepetition.[*]The Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Chesapeake opposed the petition without elaboration. The Commonwealth's Attorney for Grayson County argued that granting the name change was likely for a fraudulent purpose, would frustrate a legitimate law-enforcement purpose, and would infringe on the rights of others.

         At a hearing conducted by using a live two-way video connection, the petitioner testified and offered written exhibits. Following the hearing, the court found the name change was not sought for a fraudulent purpose, but observed that "[t]he prism through which the court views the request of Mr. Jordan is necessarily different because of his extraordinarily heinous convictions." The court reasoned as follows.

The punishment of crime is an elementary purpose of law-enforcement. There are four commonly accepted goals of criminal punishment: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation. Changing the name of Mr. Jordan frustrates retribution, deterrence and incapacitation. He was convicted of these heinous crimes under the name Brian Wend[a]ll Jordan and his sentence, as rendered by the Circuit Court of the City of Norfolk, should be served and concluded under that name. Included in this consideration are the victims of his crime, who have the right and the security in the knowledge that he is serving his apportioned sentence under that name. Someone so dangerous should have his identity fixed, certain and intractable not only with the Department of Corrections but with all of society. There should never be even a hint of confusion as to who this person is. Mr. Jordan pointed out in his materials and argument that the Department is equipped to handle name changes. That the Department can handle an inmate's name change does not of itself satisfy [Code] § 8.01-217(D). A function of his punishment is that he bear the convictions in the name they were ordered by the court, and that his victims and society have that assurance.

         The court found that the petitioner's application "frustrates a legitimate law-enforcement purpose" and thus the provisions of Code § 8.01-217(D) were not satisfied.

         Jordan filed this pro se appeal and we granted it. In accord with the highest traditions of our profession, counsel volunteered to represent him on a pro bono basis.

         ANALYSIS

         We review a circuit court's denial of an application for a name change under an abuse of discretion standard. In re Brown, 289 Va. 343, 347, 770 S.E.2d 494, 496 (2015). The statute treats probationers, persons required to register on the sex offender registry, and inmates differently from other petitioners. For probationers, persons required to register on the sex offender registry, and inmates,

[t]he court . . . may order a change of name if, after receiving and considering evidence concerning the circumstances regarding the requested change of name, the court determines that the change of name (i) would not frustrate a legitimate law-enforcement purpose, (ii) is not sought for a fraudulent purpose, and (iii) would not otherwise infringe upon the rights of others. Such ...

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