Orange County Man Arrested for Child Pornography Possession Was Teacher of the Year

August 3, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

A second-grade teacher in Orlando was arrested last week on federal charges of receiving child pornography, the Orlando Sentinel reported July 30. Robert Sewell Barth, 57, has been away from his job at Cheney Elementary School since December, on “relief of duty” status. According to the Sentinel, that was the same month when investigators caught Barth viewing a child pornography video, then came to his home to investigate his computer. He was released on bail from Seminole County jail Thursday, with charges pending, but confined to his home and forbidden to have unsupervised contact with children. His Orlando child pornography criminal defense lawyer said he wants to continue his ongoing treatment for addiction to pornography.

During the December investigation, FBI agents found 1,100 pictures and at least 25 videos in Barth’s computer, the Sentinel said. Barth admitted to investigators that he had purchased child pornography and said he was addicted to pornography. He has taught at the elementary school for at least four years, and according to another Sentinel article, he was commended as teacher of the year there in 2007. He and his wife have also fostered 19 children for the state of Florida, and he has been a religious education teacher and Cub Scout leader. The Florida Department of Children and Family Services has interviewed 18 of the 19 foster children without finding any improprieties.

Barth has admitted to purchasing child pornography, according to the Sentinel. But as a Fort Lauderdale child pornography criminal defense attorney, I hope parents at his school and community members are able to see a distinction between possessing child pornography and the grave crime of molesting children. Barth is not accused of harming any children under his care, and if the Sentinel articles left nothing important out, there are no allegations against him of improper behavior with children under his care. Child pornography possession is a serious crime in its own right, but it is not molestation, a distinction that is very important to Barth.

Federal child pornography charges are very serious. The single charge of receiving child pornography Barth faces could land him in federal prison for five to 20 years, and that’s the sentence applied to people with no prior convictions. (If charged under Florida state law for possession of child pornography, Barth could go to prison for up to to five years for each individual image.) Already, his family has lost the ability to provide foster care and his career as a teacher is almost certainly over. If convicted, he faces a lifetime of sex offender registration requirements, obstacles to getting other jobs because of convicted-felon status and a corrosive social stigma.

As a Miami child pornography possession defense attorney, I fight vigorously for clients facing these steep penalties. In many cases, I can use technical knowledge and the help of computer forensic experts to raise important questions about the prosecution’s case. Depending on the circumstances, I may work to show that the images are not of children, or that they got onto the defendant’s computer through a virus or another person. Remember, the government must always prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt -- including in cases involving materials or acts that the community finds shocking.