USA v. Marcus Fifer
Filed opinion of the court by Judge Manion. AFFIRMED. Frank H. Easterbrook, Circuit Judge; Daniel A. Manion, Circuit Judge and David F. Hamilton, Circuit Judge. [6854685-1]  [16-2812]
United States Court of Appeals
For the Seventh Circuit
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
MARCUS B. FIFER,
Appeal from the United States District Court for the
Central District of Illinois.
No. 3:14‐cr‐30006 — Sue E. Myerscough, Judge.
ARGUED APRIL 6, 2017 — DECIDED JULY 17, 2017
Before EASTERBROOK, MANION, and HAMILTON, Circuit
MANION, Circuit Judge. Marcus Fifer was tried and con‐
victed on multiple counts of producing child pornography.
On appeal he challenges several of the district court’s eviden‐
tiary rulings and one of its jury instructions. He also appeals
the terms of his supervised release. We find no error and af‐
A. Search and Seizure
In November 2013, police used a confidential source to
complete two controlled buys of heroin from an apartment in
Springfield, Illinois. The apartment belonged to a registered
sex offender named Marcus Fifer. Shortly afterwards, the po‐
lice obtained a search warrant from an Illinois state court au‐
thorizing them to search Fifer’s apartment for drugs and other
evidence including cell phones and computers. During the
search, they discovered a half‐naked 16‐year‐old girl hiding
under a bed. The girl (whose initials are C.T.) was at first un‐
cooperative; she refused to come out from under the bed and
she lied about her name and age.
One of the officers attempted to identify the girl by look‐
ing through some cell phones and a tablet that were recovered
from the apartment. When the officer saw sexually explicit
images of C.T. and Fifer on those devices, he referred the case
to his department’s sex‐crimes division. Officers from that di‐
vision eventually secured C.T.’s cooperation. C.T. revealed
that she and Fifer had been living together over the past sev‐
eral months and had produced a number of sex videos using
the electronic devices (four cell phones, a laptop computer,
and a tablet) found in the apartment.
1 The officer who referred the case testified that he would have done
so regardless of what he had seen on the phones and tablet. He was al‐
ready aware (before executing the warrant) that Fifer was a registered sex
offender, and he averred that the referral was justified based solely on the
fact that C.T. was found half‐naked and uncooperative in the home of a
known sex offender.
The police then got a warrant from federal court to search
the electronic devices for child pornography. The application
for the federal warrant made no mention of the initial on‐site
search of the phones or tablet, but was based entirely on C.T.’s
statements to the officers from the sex‐crimes division. The
execution of the federal warrant revealed sexually explicit im‐
ages and videos of C.T. and Fifer.
In 2015 Fifer was charged with more than twenty counts
of producing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§
2251(a) and (e). Before trial, Fifer moved to suppress the evi‐
dence obtained from his electronic devices on the ground that
the state search warrant lacked probable cause. The district
court found probable cause and denied the motion to sup‐
press. At the same time, the court granted the government’s
motion to exclude evidence regarding Fifer’s knowledge (or
lack of knowledge) of C.T.’s age, and also excluded as irrele‐
vant a number of exhibits and witnesses proffered by Fifer to
show that he and C.T. had a “loving relationship.” Initially the
court also barred evidence of Fifer’s prior sex‐offense convic‐
tion, but later admitted the conviction after Fifer testified at
trial that his “sole purpose” in producing pornography with
C.T. was to enhance their loving relationship.
At the close of the evidence, the court used this Circuit’s
pattern jury instruction to advise the jury on how to evaluate
the opinion testimony presented at trial. Fifer unsuccessfully
objected to the instruction on the ground that it bolstered the
2 In 2008 Fifer pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an 11‐year‐old girl.
3 Seventh Circuit Pattern Criminal Jury Instruction 3.13.
government’s expert witnesses by mentioning their official ti‐
tles. Here’s the portion of the instruction to which Fifer ob‐
You have heard witnesses, namely, Department
of Homeland Security Task Force Officer Ellen
Price, who gave opinions and testimony about
forensic examination of electronic items as well
as the extraction of child pornography from
those same electronic items, and Department of
Homeland Security Resident agent in charge
Michael Mitchell … .
The jury ultimately found Fifer guilty of eighteen counts
of producing child pornography. The district court sentenced
Fifer to 35 years in prison plus lifetime supervised release
with mandatory sex‐offender treatment. The court ordered
Fifer to “abide by the rules of the [sex‐offender] treatment
provider [and] submit to physiological testing, including pol‐
On appeal Fifer challenges each of the district court’s evi‐
dentiary rulings recounted above. He also challenges the jury
instruction on opinion testimony and the length and terms of
his supervised release. We address each challenge in turn.
A. Motion to Suppress
In reviewing the district court’s denial of Fifer’s motion to
suppress, we review its legal conclusions de novo and its fac‐
tual findings for clear error. United States v. McPhaul, 835 F.3d
687, 689 (7th Cir. 2016).
1. Probable Cause
Fifer argues that the evidence obtained from his apartment
should have been suppressed because the state search war‐
rant was not supported by probable cause. Probable cause
exists when the supporting affidavit “sets forth sufficient facts
to induce a reasonably prudent person to believe that a search
will uncover contraband or evidence of a crime.” United States
v. Sidwell, 440 F.3d 865, 868 (7th Cir. 2006). “This common‐
sense, non‐technical determination is based not on individual
facts in isolation but on the totality of the circumstances
known at the time a warrant is requested.” United States v.
Aljabari, 626 F.3d 940, 944 (7th Cir. 2010). We give “great def‐
erence” to the issuing judge’s finding of probable cause.
United States v. Dessart, 823 F.3d 395, 400 (7th Cir. 2016).
We agree with the issuing judge and the district court that
the affidavit used to obtain the state search warrant estab‐
lished probable cause for the search. The officer who submit‐
ted the affidavit credibly reported that he and another officer
had recently overseen two controlled buys of heroin from
Fifer’s apartment. Each controlled buy involved the same con‐
fidential informant and followed the same procedure. First,
the informant arranged the drug deal with Fifer by making a
phone call in the presence of the officers. Then the officers
searched the informant for money or contraband; they
checked his pockets, waistband, outer clothing and coat, and
around his socks and shoes. Finding nothing, they gave the
informant the buy‐money, drove him to Fifer’s apartment,
and watched him exit the vehicle and walk to a landing that
4 The validity of the federal search warrant is not in question, but more
on that later.
led down some stairs to the apartment. About a minute later,
the informant reappeared on the landing, returned to the ve‐
hicle with a few packets of what was later confirmed to be
heroin, and told the officers that Fifer had given him the her‐
oin in exchange for the money. The officers then searched the
informant again and again found nothing. Faced with these
facts, a reasonably prudent person could easily conclude that
a search of Fifer’s apartment would reveal contraband or evi‐
dence of a crime. See Sidwell, 440 F.3d at 869 (affiant’s state‐
ment that a confidential informant entered an apartment
building without contraband and exited moments later with
cocaine was sufficient to establish probable cause to search
Fifer nonetheless insists that the conditions of the con‐
trolled buy weren’t stringent enough to ensure that the drugs
came from his apartment. His argument is premised on a ra‐
ther unusual theory: he speculates—with no supporting evi‐
dence—that the informant already had the heroin on him
when he went to arrange the deal, successfully concealed the
heroin from police during the initial search, pretended to deal
with Fifer after reaching the apartment, and then produced
the heroin he’d concealed and lied that he bought it from Fifer.
While it’s theoretically possible that the informant framed
Fifer (and duped the police) in this way, it’s not at all likely.
And it certainly isn’t so likely as to defeat probable cause,
which after all requires “only a probability”—not absolute
certainty. See Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 243 n.13 (1983); Sid‐
well, 440 F.3d at 869. Since the affidavit supporting the state
search warrant clearly established at least a probability of
criminal activity at Fifer’s apartment, we defer to the state
court’s finding of probable cause.
2. Good Faith
The evidence obtained as a result of the state search war‐
rant was also properly admitted because the executing offic‐
ers relied on the warrant in good faith. It’s well‐established
that even illegally obtained evidence is “admissible if the of‐
ficer who conducted the search acted in good faith reliance on
a search warrant.” United States v. Pappas, 592 F.3d 799, 802
(7th Cir. 2010). An officer’s decision to obtain a warrant is
prima facie evidence of good faith. Id.
Fifer tries to rebut this presumption by arguing that the
affiant officer deliberately or recklessly included false repre‐
sentations in the affidavit. See United States v. Glover, 755 F.3d
811, 818 (7th Cir. 2014) (“[T]he good faith exception does not
apply when the affiant misleads the magistrate with a reck‐
less or knowing disregard for the truth.”). To illustrate, he
notes that the affidavit says the informant was kept under
“constant surveillance” during the controlled buys, whereas
the affiant officer later testified that the informant was briefly
out of sight after he reached the landing at Fifer’s apartment.
Such an inconsequential (apparent) discrepancy, however,
falls far short of negating the presumption of good faith. See
United States v. Williams, 718 F.3d 644, 650 (7th Cir. 2013);
United States v. Souffront, 338 F.3d 809, 822 (7th Cir. 2003) (“A
technical contradiction does not reveal a disregard of the
At its core, the affidavit recounts that the police conducted
two controlled buys in which the informant (1) called Fifer to
arrange a drug deal, (2) went to Fifer’s apartment with money
and no drugs and came back with drugs and no money, and
(3) reported that Fifer had sold him the drugs as arranged.
These representations were sufficient to establish probable
cause, and Fifer offers no evidence that any of them are false—
much less that they’re reckless distortions or outright lies.
Under these circumstances, no reasonably well‐trained officer
would have believed that the search of Fifer’s apartment was
illegal despite the warrant. See United States v. Leon, 468 U.S.
897, 922 n.23 (1984). The fruits of the search were therefore
properly admitted regardless of the warrant’s validity.
3. On‐site Search of Electronic Devices
Fifer alternatively argues that the evidence obtained from
his electronic devices should be suppressed because the state
search warrant didn’t authorize the initial on‐site search of the
phones and tablet conducted at the apartment. Fifer’s argu‐
ment rests on a semantic distinction: the warrant identifies the
apartment as the place “to be searched,” and the electronic
devices (and other objects) as the items “to be seized.” Ac‐
cording to Fifer, this distinction means that the warrant au‐
thorized only the seizure, but not the search, of the electronic
devices found in the apartment. This argument fails for three
First, by explicitly authorizing the police to seize the elec‐
tronic devices found in Fifer’s apartment, the warrant implic‐
itly authorized them to search those devices as well. At least,
that’s the most reasonable interpretation. After all, the whole
point of a search warrant is to authorize police to search for
5 Fifer’s failure to show that the affiant officer was dishonest or reck‐
less in preparing the affidavit also dooms his related argument that the
district court wrongly deprived him of a Franks hearing. See Souffront, 338
F.3d at 822 (noting that a Franks hearing is required only when the defend‐
ant makes a substantial preliminary showing that the affiant intentionally
or recklessly included a material false statement in the affidavit).
evidence of a crime. And it seems inescapable that if there’s
probable cause to seize an object because it might contain ev‐
idence of a crime, then there’s also probable cause to search
the object for the evidence it might contain. Why, then, would
the issuing judge order the police to seize an item—such as a
computer, a phone, or even a safe (all listed in the warrant)—
only to have them reapply for an essentially identical warrant
to search the item seized? Why, when the same probable cause
that justified the seizure also justifies the search?
We think it generally makes more sense to read a search
warrant’s command to seize an electronic device as including
a concomitant directive to search that device’s digital con‐
tents. That’s certainly the case here, where the basis for the
seizure of Fifer’s electronic devices was to search them for dig‐
ital data. That’s also how courts read federal search warrants.
See, e.g., Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(e)(2)(B) (warrant authorizing sei‐
zure of electronic storage media includes implicit authoriza‐
tion to search the media consistent with the warrant). And in
the absence of any contrary authority, there’s no reason to
read Illinois’ search warrants any differently.6
Second, even if the state search warrant hadn’t authorized
it, the on‐site search of Fifer’s electronic devices was nonethe‐
less permissible under the exigent‐circumstances exception to
the warrant requirement. See Riley, 134 S. Ct. at 2486–87, 2494
(noting that even a warrantless cell‐phone search may be jus‐
tified when “the exigencies of the situation” make the search
6 The Supreme Court’s holding in Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 2473
(2014) is not to the contrary. In Riley, the Court held only that the warrant‐
less search of a cell phone wasn’t justified as a search incident to arrest. Id.
at 2485, 2493. The Court said nothing about the situation here: searching a
cell phone in reliance on a valid warrant.
objectively reasonable). A central purpose of that exception is
to “ensure that the police or other government agents are able
to assist persons in danger or otherwise in need of assistance.”
United States v. Richardson, 208 F.3d 626, 630 (7th Cir. 2000).
That purpose was surely implicated here, where a 16‐year‐
old girl was found half‐naked and hiding under a bed in the
home of a convicted sexual predator. Given C.T.’s failure to
cooperate, it was objectively reasonable for police to search
the electronic devices in Fifer’s apartment for information to
help identify C.T. and locate her family.
Third, even assuming that the on‐site search of the elec‐
tronic devices was illegal, the resulting evidence was still ad‐
missible under the independent‐source doctrine because it
was separately discovered through the execution of the fed‐
eral search warrant. That warrant, whose validity is not in dis‐
pute, did not depend on the evidence derived from the elec‐
tronic devices during the on‐site search, but was based exclu‐
sively on what C.T. said during her interview with the officers
from the sex‐crimes division. The challenged evidence was
also admissible under the related doctrine of inevitable dis‐
covery, since the officer who did the on‐site search credibly
testified that he would have referred the case to the sex‐crimes
7 The independent‐source doctrine allows the introduction of evi‐
dence initially discovered unlawfully if it was later discovered by an in‐
dependent lawful means. See United States v. May, 214 F.3d 900, 906 (7th
8 Under the inevitable‐discovery doctrine, illegally obtained evidence
is admissible if the government can prove that the evidence ultimately
would have been legally discovered. See United States v. Marrocco, 578 F.3d
627, 637 (7th Cir. 2009).
division regardless of what he had seen on the devices. In
other words, even if the on‐site search hadn’t occurred, the
federal warrant still would have issued based on C.T.’s state‐
ments during her interview, and the evidence from Fifer’s
electronic devices still would have been discovered as a result
of that warrant.
To recap: The district court properly denied Fifer’s motion
to suppress. The state search warrant was supported by prob‐
able cause and the executing officers relied on the warrant in
good faith. The warrant authorized the search of the electronic
devices found at Fifer’s apartment, and exigent circumstances
justified the search in any event. Finally, the evidence ob‐
tained from the electronic devices was admissible because it
was (inevitably) discovered by an independent lawful search
pursuant to the federal search warrant.
B. Other Evidentiary Rulings
We review the district court’s decision to admit or exclude
evidence for an abuse of discretion. Suarez v. Town of Ogden
Dunes, Ind., 581 F.3d 591, 598 (7th Cir. 2009); United States v.
Hawpetoss, 478 F.3d 820, 823 (7th Cir. 2007).
1. Evidence Regarding Fifer’s Knowledge of C.T.’s Age
Fifer argues that the district court wrongly excluded evi‐
dence regarding his knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of
C.T.’s age. As this court held in United States v. Fletcher, 634
F.3d 395, 401 (7th Cir. 2011), a defendant’s knowledge of the
victim’s age is not an element of the offense of producing child
pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a). Evidence that Fifer
misjudged C.T.’s age therefore has no bearing on his guilt or
innocence under the statute, and the district court properly
excluded that evidence as irrelevant. See Fed. R. Evid. 401 (rel‐
evant evidence tends to make a material fact more or less
probable than it would be without the evidence).
Fifer also mounts a constitutional challenge to § 2251 as
interpreted by Fletcher. Without a mistake‐of‐age defense, he
contends, the statute is unconstitutional because it interferes
with a “personal and fundamental” “human right”: the “right
to establish and enhance a meaningful relationship with an‐
other person of one’s choosing, conditioned only the reasona‐
ble belief that the person possess the legal capacity to con‐
sent.” Even if such a right exists somewhere, it doesn’t exist in
the Constitution. And that’s the end of Fifer’s challenge. In de‐
termining whether a statute is constitutional, the rights in the
Constitution are the only rights that count.
2. Fifer’s Proffered Witnesses and Exhibits
Fifer next argues that the district court erred by excluding
the witnesses and exhibits he proffered to show that he and
C.T. had a loving relationship. Through that evidence, Fifer
hoped to prove that he would have engaged in sex acts with
C.T. regardless of whether the acts were recorded, and there‐
fore that he lacked the criminal intent to produce child por‐
nography under § 2251.
Fifer’s argument is based on an overly narrow reading of
the statute’s intent requirement. To be convicted of producing
child pornography under § 2251, a defendant must simply in‐
duce a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct “for the
purpose of” producing a visual depiction of that conduct. 18
U.S.C. § 2251(a). Nothing in the statute requires that the pro‐
duction of such a depiction be the defendant’s only purpose.
See United States v. Vang, 128 F.3d 1065, 1072 (7th Cir. 1997)
(interpreting a similar statute to mean that a defendant may
act “for the purpose of” engaging in sexually illicit conduct
even if he has more than one purpose); United States v. Rap‐
linger, 555 F.3d 687, 693 (8th Cir. 2009) (“The government need
not prove [under § 2251(a)] that producing the photographs
was [the defendant’s] sole purpose for engaging in the sexual
activity.”); United States v. Sirois, 87 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 1996)
(A defendant “is no less a child pornographer simply because
he is also a pedophile.”).
The government in this case presented ample evidence
that Fifer intentionally induced C.T. to engage in sexually ex‐
plicit conduct for the purpose of producing pornographic im‐
ages. Evidence that Fifer had a loving relationship with C.T.
may suggest that he had additional motivations for having
sex with her, but that doesn’t make it more or less likely that
he had the requisite intent to produce illegal visual depic‐
tions. Fifer’s proffered evidence was thus irrelevant to
whether he violated the statute, and the district court
properly excluded it on that basis.
3. Evidence of Fifer’s Prior Sex‐Offense Conviction
When a defendant is accused of child molestation in a
criminal case, evidence that he previously molested a child is
admissible for any relevant purpose. Fed. R. Evid. 414(a). Ap‐
pellate review of the district court’s admission of other acts of
sexual misconduct is “highly deferential.” See Hawpetoss, 478
F.3d at 823.
As noted earlier, the district court issued two successive
rulings regarding Fifer’s previous sex‐offense conviction.
First, before trial, the court recognized that the conviction was
admissible under Rule 414 but nonetheless excluded it under
Rule 403 because its prejudicial effect appeared to outweigh
its limited probative value. See Fed. R. Evid. 403 (otherwise
relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is
substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice).
That all changed once Fifer testified that he produced pornog‐
raphy with C.T. for the purpose of building a better relation‐
ship. By putting his intent in issue, Fifer increased the proba‐
tive value of his prior conviction, which tended to undermine
his allegedly pure motivations. See United States v. Russell, 662
F.3d 831, 847 (7th Cir. 2011) (“Prior instances of sexual mis‐
conduct with a child victim … may establish a defendant’s
sexual interest in children and thereby serve as evidence of
the defendant’s motive to commit a charged offense involving
the sexual exploitation of children.”).
In light of Fifer’s testimony, the district court rightly con‐
cluded that the probative value of Fifer’s earlier conviction
was no longer substantially outweighed by the danger of un‐
fair prejudice. See id. at 842–47 (district court properly re‐
versed its earlier ruling excluding child‐molestation evidence
after defendant’s testimony at trial gave the evidence greater
probative value). The court did not abuse its discretion in ad‐
mitting Fifer’s prior conviction under Rule 414.
C. Jury Instruction on Opinion Testimony
“We review a trial court’s instructions to the jury with
great deference.” Vang, 128 F.3d at 1069. “[I]nstructions ‘which
are accurate statements of the law and which are supported
by the record will not be disturbed on appeal.’” Id.
Fifer argues that the district court’s jury instruction on
opinion testimony improperly bolstered the government’s ex‐
pert witnesses because it mentioned the witnesses’ official ti‐
tles in addition to their proper names (e.g., “Department of
Homeland Security Resident agent in charge Michael Mitch‐
ell,” instead of just “Michael Mitchell”). He also argues that
the instruction was unfairly prejudicial because it briefly re‐
counted that some of the opinion testimony dealt with the
subject of child pornography (e.g., “You have heard witnesses
… who gave opinions and testimony about … the extraction
of child pornography from … electronic items … .”).
These arguments are quickly disposed of. Accurately
identifying witnesses by their name and title does not imper‐
missibly bolster their testimony. Nor does accurately recalling
the substance of that testimony somehow prejudice the party
against whom it was offered. Fifer does not dispute the accu‐
racy—factual or legal—of any portion of the challenged in‐
struction. That is enough to resolve this issue. The challenged
instruction is supported by the record and provides no basis
D. Supervised Release
Fifer’s final argument is that the district court erred in im‐
posing the terms of his lifetime supervised release. He op‐
poses both the length of the release as well as the condition
requiring him to submit to physiological testing to the extent
ordered by his sex‐offender treatment program.
The main goal of supervised release is “to prevent recidi‐
vism and foster the offender’s re‐entry into society.” United
States v. Jones, 798 F.3d 613, 619 (7th Cir. 2015). The conditions
of release must also be “reasonably related to the goals of sen‐
tencing—deterrence, rehabilitation, and protecting the pub‐
lic—in light of the history and characteristics of the defend‐
ant.” United States v. Cary, 775 F.3d 919, 923–24 (7th Cir. 2015).
The district court has broad discretion when imposing the
terms of supervised release. United States v. Neal, 662 F.3d 936,
938 (7th Cir. 2011).
The district court in this case did not abuse its discretion
in determining the length or conditions of Fifer’s supervised
release. At sentencing, the court recalled how Fifer “took a
[then‐]15‐year‐old girl, who had nowhere else to go, into [his]
home, not to shelter and protect her, but to prey on her vul‐
nerable state and manipulate and exploit her for months be‐
fore [being] arrested.” The court was “severely troubled by
the harm that these actions may have caused”—actions that
Fifer took while already a registered sex offender with a pre‐
vious conviction for sexually assaulting a minor. The court
also expressed concern that Fifer “demonstrated many of the
characteristics of psychopathy and antisocial behavior.”
Based on these legitimate considerations, the court concluded
that lifetime supervised release with mandatory sex‐offender
treatment was appropriate to ensure public safety and to help
Fifer reenter society without relapsing into criminal activity.
The terms of release were thus reasonably tailored, in light of
Fifer’s history and characteristics, to achieve the relevant sen‐
tencing goals of deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection of
9 We reject Fifer’s speculative arguments that his physiological testing
may be “quite invasive” and may violate his right against self‐incrimina‐
tion. The first of these arguments isn’t ripe for review and the second is
baseless. See United States v. Miller, 829 F.3d 519, 530 (7th Cir. 2016) (“[A]ny
challenge to the hypothetical testing the defendant may be forced to un‐
Fifer raises a number of arguments on appeal, but none
has merit. The district court properly admitted the evidence
obtained from the state search warrant, which was supported
by probable cause, and properly applied Rule 403’s balancing
test in admitting the evidence of Fifer’s prior conviction under
Rule 414. The court also properly excluded certain evidence
as irrelevant: neither Fifer’s relationship with C.T. nor his
knowledge or ignorance of her age had any bearing on
whether he committed the crimes charged. The jury instruc‐
tion regarding opinion testimony was fair and accurate and
did not bolster the government’s witnesses. And the imposi‐
tion of lifetime supervised release with mandatory sex‐of‐
fender treatment was justified under the circumstances; Fifer
is a recidivist child predator, and the terms of his release are
reasonably necessary to protect the public from future harm.
The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.
dergo ‘involves too many contingencies to make the issue ripe for re‐
view.’”); United States v. Kappes, 782 F.3d 828, 855–56 (7th Cir. 2015) (“A
defendant on supervised release retains the privilege to invoke his Fifth
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