No New Trial for SA Teacher Convicted of Oppression

A high court threw out a lower court's ruling that granted a San Antonio teacher convicted of official oppression a new trial. - Wikipedia
A high court threw out a lower court's ruling that granted a San Antonio teacher convicted of official oppression a new trial.

A former Judson Independent School District teacher won't get a new trial after all, the Fourth Court of Appeals ruled.

Cynthia Ambrose, who taught at Salinas Elementary, was convicted of official oppression in 2013 because she directed and allowed students in May 2012 to strike a a student who had hit a classmate in the back. Ambrose was found guilty after 42 minutes of jury deliberation and was sentenced to one year in jail, which was suspended to community supervision, according to the ruling.

According to KSAT 12, Bexar County Judge Sid Harle granted Ambrose a new trial in October 2013 because of an error in the jury charge. Court documents show Ambrose was granted a new trial because of an absence of witness-accomplice testimony instruction in the jury charge. However, during the trial, Ambrose's attorney didn't object to the absence of witness-accomplice testimony.

The majority opinion written by Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa explains why the appeals court disagreed with the lower court, namely that non-accomplice testimony and Ambrose's own admissions were strong enough to connect actual intent to mistreat the student.

"The inclusion of an accomplice-witness instruction would not have rendered the State's case clearly and significantly less persuasive so as to deprive Ambrose of a fair and impartial trial," Chapa wrote. "Therefore, we conclude Ambrose did not suffer egregious harm and hold the trial court erred in granting Ambrose's motion for new trial. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's order granting a new trial, and we remand this case for further proceedings."

Justice Marialyn Barnard wrote a concurring opinion, but was concerned about this standard's effect on the trial court to grant new trials.

"The trial court heard this testimony, as well as other contradictory testimony and was in a far better position to judge the impact on the jury and the case as a whole," Barnard wrote, referring to a school official who testified Ambrose admitted she told students to strike the child, but then claimed there was reason to doubt another teacher's report concerning the incident. "Nevertheless, because the egregious standard requires the evidence to be 'exceedingly weak,' 'inherently unreliable,' 'unbelievable,' or 'so unconvincing' as to render the case for conviction 'clearly and significantly less persuasive,' before we can uphold the trial court's decision to grant a new trial, I fail to see how the trial court could ever grant a motion for a new trial and have that ruling upheld on appeal."

Ambrose's story was featured on ABC's 20/20 in 2013 and she spoke with the program again in February 2014, telling ABC she is unemployable. 

"I am still wondering when my storm will be over," Ambrose told ABC in an email. 

You can read the majority opinion here: