The state Superior Court denied a request to let a former Fayette County teacher serving prison time for child pornography charges withdraw his plea.
Robert David Caldwell II, 40, of Uniontown contended he entered a plea because his former attorney led him to believe he would be sentenced to the intermediate punishment program. Because admission to the program was statutorily barred, however, Caldwell was sentenced to 2 to 12 years in prison.
The former substitute teacher at Laurel Highlands Middle School was charged in 2014 for showing a pornographic image to male students using his cellphone during school hours. It prompted a search of the South Union Township home Caldwell shared with his father, a retired Uniontown Area High School teacher, and the discovery of child pornography on his father’s home computer.
The appeal asked the Superior Court to decide whether a county judge should have allowed Caldwell to withdraw his plea because he claimed he entered it believing he would be eligible for a sentence that avoided serving jail time.
Judge Mary P. Murray, who wrote the opinion, agreed the advice Caldwell’s attorney gave him about his eligibility for intermediate punishment was “legally unsound and devoid of any reasonable basis designed to effectuate (Caldwell’s) interests.”
However, she also found that entering the plea did not cause Caldwell any prejudice.
She noted Caldwell himself testified he entered the plea in county court because his attorney also told him that it was “an absolute” that federal prosecutors were prepared to file charges against him as well.
His former attorney also testified he made that recommendation based on the likelihood of longer federal sentence.
“Although (Caldwell) now claims that he only pled guilty because of plea counsel’s unsound legal advice regarding his eligibility for intermediate punishment, (Caldwell’s) testimony and plea counsel’s testimony demonstrates otherwise,” Murray wrote.
Caldwell’s father, Robert Caldwell Sr., was also charged and entered a plea in his case. He was sentenced to three months to seven years in prison.