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Supreme Court of the United States
December 8, 1986, Argued ; March 9, 1987, Decided
[*389] [***413] [**1190] JUSTICE POWELL announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect [****8] to Parts I, II, III-A, IV, and V, and an opinion with respect to Part III-B, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE SCALIA join.
The question in this case is whether a court properly may enforce an agreement in which a criminal defendant releases his right to file an action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 in return for a prosecutor's dismissal of pending criminal charges.
In 1983, a grand jury in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, indicted David Champy for aggravated felonious sexual assault. Respondent Bernard Rumery, a friend of Champy's, read about the charges in a local newspaper. Seeking information about the charges, he telephoned Mary Deary, who was acquainted with both Rumery and Champy. Coincidentally, Deary had been the victim of the assault in [***414] question and was expected to be the principal witness against Champy. The record does not reveal directly the date or substance of this conversation between Rumery and Deary, but Deary apparently was disturbed by the call. On March 12, according to police records, she called David Barrett, the Chief of Police for the town of Newton. She told him that Rumery was trying to force her to drop the charges against [****9] Champy. Rumery talked to Deary again on May 11. The substance of this conversation also is disputed. Rumery claims that Deary called him and that she raised the subject of Champy's difficulties. According to the police records, however, Deary told Chief Barrett that Rumery had threatened that, if Deary went forward on the Champy case, she would "end up like" two women who recently had been [*390] murdered in Lowell, Massachusetts. App. 49. Barrett arrested Rumery and accused him of tampering with a witness in violation of N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 641:5(I)(b) (1986), a Class B felony.
Rumery promptly retained Stephen Woods, an experienced criminal defense attorney. 2 Woods contacted Brian Graf, the Deputy County Attorney for Rockingham County. He warned Graf that he "had better [dismiss] these charges, because we're going to win them and after that we're going to sue." App. 11. After further discussions, Graf and Woods reached an agreement, under which Graf would dismiss the charges against Rumery if Rumery would agree not to sue the town, its officials, or Deary for any harm caused by the arrest. All parties agreed that one factor in Graf's decision not to prosecute Rumery [****10] was Graf's desire to protect Deary from the trauma she would suffer if she were forced to testify. As the prosecutor explained in the District Court:
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480 U.S. 386 *; 107 S. Ct. 1187 **; 94 L. Ed. 2d 405 ***; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 1060 ****; 55 U.S.L.W. 4304
TOWN OF NEWTON ET AL. v. RUMERY
Prior History: [****1] CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT.
Disposition: 778 F.2d 66, reversed and remanded.
release-dismissal, public interest, charges, cases, constitutional right, arrest, criminal charge, covenant, wrongdoing, innocent, plea bargain, conversation, meritorious, misconduct, criminal justice, prosecutorial, invalidating, plurality, prosecute, assault, felony, drop, benefits, prosecutor's decision, conflicting interest, emotional distress, police officer, per se rule, circumstances, indictment
Contracts Law, Defenses, Public Policy Violations, Business & Corporate Compliance, Contracts Law, Types of Contracts, Releases, Criminal Law & Procedure, Preliminary Proceedings, Plea Bargaining Process, Breach of Plea Agreements, Civil Rights Law, Protection of Rights, Section 1983 Actions, Scope, Entry of Pleas, General Overview, Guilty Pleas