Police Officers Derek Sullivan and Emmett Macken observed a small group of men outside a rooming house in Manchester, New Hampshire known for drug activity. It appeared as if a drug deal was in progress. The officers followed two of the men, Joshua Lacy and Bryan Bleau to a parking lot behind the residence. Bleau and Lacy were joined by a third man. A black Honda arrived and Bleau got in the passenger side. The car drove away. After a short period it returned. Bleau got out of the car and took a bag out of the trunk. Since they were outnumbered the officers called for backup. Before the backup officer arrived Sullivan and Macken drew their service revolvers. Sullivan walked up to the vehicle and ordered the driver, Anthony Rabbia to get out of the car and when he complied Sullivan handcuffed him. At the same time Sullivan told Rabbia that he was not under arrest, that he was being handcuffed for officer safety purposes, and that the handcuffs would be removed upon the arrival of a third officer. Sullivan frisked Rabbia and found nothing.
A gun was found in the bag.
A third officer arrived and Rabbia’s handcuffs were removed.
Rabbias responded to a question by Sullivan saying that he sold the gun to Bleau. Rabbia and Bleau were convicted felons and were arrested for possession of the gun.
At the police station Rabbia gave the officers permission to search his room at his mother’s house. But his mother told the officers that he lived with his girlfriend. Rabbia’s girlfriend gave the officers permission to search her residence and shells were found in a closet.
After being arraigned Rabbia moved to suppress his statements claiming they were taken in violation of Miranda and the shells found at his girlfriend’s house. The motions were denied and he appealed.
Rabbia claimed that his detention in the parking lot violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
Since a reasonably prudent and experienced police officer could have believed that a drug transaction was occurring it was reasonable for the officer to briefly detain Rabbia under Terry v. Ohio while an investigation occurred. Thus, contrary to Rabbia’s argument the search of his girlfriend’s ouse was not the result of an illegal detention.
If a detention is excessively long it may be a de facto arrest. The use of handcuffs, the exhibition of the officer’s weapon, and the frisking of Rabbia may also result in a de facto arrest. But the First Circuit ruled that he was not arrested prior to his formal arrest. He was merely detained for officer safety reasons. Courts generally give officers wide authority to search individuals when the officers claim that they are doing it to protect themselves or others. To support it’s decision the court pointed out that he was only handcuffed for five minutes. Sullivan’s statement that he was being detained and the relatively short (30 minutes) period of the detention provide additional reasons.