BILLINGS - The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday tossed out a domestic violence charge against a former Laurel police officer, and the case cannot be retried.
The court concluded retrying the case against Jim Huertas for partner family member assault would violate double-jeopardy laws. A lower court had initially declared a mistrial, and Huertas was seeking to dismiss the charge.
Before the decision, the city of Billings had charged Huertas following an physical altercation with his girlfriend in July 2016.
The woman was forced to testify at the trial in January due to a court-ordered subpoena.
She testified that the night before trial, Billings Police officer Paul LaMantia served her a subpoena requiring her to appear at the trial as one of the city’s witnesses.
The woman and LaMantia were personally familiar with one another at the time the subpoena was served, according to the documents. LaMantia and Huertas were business partners at a downtown Billings shop. A physical altercation between the two sent Huertas to the hospital and dissolved the business relationship.
Documents went on to state a city official reported he had asked a sergeant to serve the subpoena but did not know LaMantia was going to serve it.
The woman said LaMantia wanted to give her "friendly advice as a friend" and said LaMantia told her she needed to be at the trial so Huertas would be "punished for everything that he has done."
Despite the interaction, Judge Sheila Kolar said the interaction did not go "far enough" to influence her testimony, but said what the woman testified in front of a jury and without jury present was conflicting and "poisoned" jurors.
Kolar still declared a mistrial.
In February, Huertas filed a motion in Billings Municipal Court to dismiss the charge, contending that further prosecution would violate his constitutional rights from double jeopardy.
The motion was denied. District court also denied Huertas' petition to vacate the municipal court's denial.
The Montana Supreme Court found Kolar should not have declared a mistrial in the court and "and Huertas’s conduct did not demonstrate a waiver of his right to object to termination of the proceedings and to a retrial."