United States v. Fifer, No. 16-2812 (7th Cir. 2017)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Police used a confidential source to buy heroin from registered sex offender Fifer. They obtained a state court warrant to search for evidence including cell phones and computers. They discovered a half‐naked 16‐year‐old girl (C) under a bed. C initially refused to come out and lied about her name and age. An officer attempted to identify her by looking through electronic devices found in the apartment. When the officer found sexually explicit images of C and Fifer, he brought in the sex‐crimes division, which secured C’s cooperation. C. revealed that she and Fifer lived together and had produced sex videos. Police got a federal warrant to search the electronic devices for child pornography. The application did not mention the initial on‐site search but was based on C.T.’s statements. Its execution revealed sexually explicit images of C and Fifer. Fifer was charged with producing child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2251(a), (e). The court found probable cause, denied a motion to suppress, and admitted Fifer’s prior sex offender conviction after Fifer testified that his “sole purpose” was to enhance their loving relationship. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Fifer’s convictions. The affidavit supporting the state warrant clearly established at least a probability of criminal activity at Fifer’s apartment and no reasonably well‐trained officer would have believed that the search was illegal. Exigent circumstances justified the on-site search of the electronic devices. Fifer’s proffered evidence of his knowledge of C's age or their “loving relationship” was irrelevant to whether he violated the statute, Accurately identifying witnesses by their titles did not impermissibly bolster their testimony.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 16 2812 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff Appellee, v. MARCUS B. FIFER, Defendant Appellant. ____________________ 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 Judges. 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 firm. 2 No. 16 2812 I. BACKGROUND 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 1 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. No. 16 2812 3 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. B. Proceedings 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 2 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 3 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. 4 No. 16 2812 government’s expert witnesses by mentioning their official ti tles. Here’s the portion of the instruction to which Fifer ob jected: 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 ygraph testing.” II. DISCUSSION 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). No. 16 2812 5 1. Probable Cause Fifer argues that the evidence obtained from his apartment should have been suppressed because the state search war 4 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. 6 No. 16 2812 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 the apartment). 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. No. 16 2812 7 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 truth.”). 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 8 No. 16 2812 cause, and Fifer offers no evidence that any of them are false— 5 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 reasons. 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). No. 16 2812 9 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. 10 No. 16 2812 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 7 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 8 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 Cir. 2000). 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). No. 16 2812 11 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 12 No. 16 2812 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) No. 16 2812 13 (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 14 No. 16 2812 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 No. 16 2812 15 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 for reversal. 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 16 No. 16 2812 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 the public.9 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 No. 16 2812 17 III. CONCLUSION 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 Amendment rights.”).

Primary Holding

Search of electronic devices found during warranted search for drug evidence was justified by exigent circumstances where police found an uncooperative, half-naked, teenager under a bed.

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