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Glassport magistrate explains court system to crime-watchers

Glassport residents have a better understanding of how the judicial system works after a crime watch meeting with their local magisterial district judge.

Judge Armand A. Martin, who presides over cases from Glassport, Clairton, Liberty and Port Vue, spoke at Wednesday night's meeting at the Glassport Senior Citizens Center.

Martin said he could not comment on pending cases or cases on which he has ruled. He fielded questions about what to do when observing drug activity, why cases are withdrawn or dismissed, and the Castle Doctrine.

Martin explained The Castle Doctrine is a law that was amended last summer to expand a homeowner's right to use deadly force against intruders.

The amendment eliminates the owner's duty to retreat before attacking an intruder, and protects the homeowner against civil lawsuits.

Martin also explained that cases are dismissed when, after hearing the evidence, he does not think there is enough to warrant a particular charge. Cases or charges are withdrawn by the police or district attorney, he said.

The judge also noted he cannot get involved in the prosecution or investigation of a case or he would have to recuse himself.

Martin took office in July 2009, and has presided over at least 15,000 cases so far. He hears summary cases on Mondays, criminal cases on Tuesdays, civil cases on Wednesdays and payment determination hearings on Fridays.

Martin also cleared up some misconceptions about his office and work as a judge.

"There are two criteria in setting bond in a case," he said. "One, bond is set to ensure somebody's appearance in court. It's a collateral posting that they put down to make sure they show. If they don't show, we take the money, we put a warrant out for them.

"The second (criteria) is public safety, keeping people free from harm.

"We have the best justice system in the world. It is imperfect. Every justice system is imperfect. You're always going to have an innocent person convicted here and there, and a guilty person get away here and there. Bond is not punishment. Everyone has a presumption of innocence."

Martin also talked about the perceived relationship between a judge and police.

"One of the common misconceptions of my office is that I work for the police, or the police somehow work for me," Martin said. "Which can't be any further from the truth. If I told a police officer that they had to file charges on somebody, I could not hear that case."

The judge enforces laws passed by legislators, known as statutory laws, and laws set by precedent, or case law.

Martin highlighted some differences in cases, and what happens when a defendant refuses to show up.

"Every case that comes through is different," he said. "I can rule only on evidence presented. Anyone who avoids the court goes to jail."

Police liaison Lt. Ron Benoit Martin also spoke at Wednesday night's crime watch meeting, talking about phone scams.

"We can't tell you enough times," Benoit said. "Please, don't give any information over the phone. For every solution we come up with, there's 10 new scams that they come up with to try and get money out of you people."

Mayor Michael Evanovich urged residents to use caution when dealing with door-to-door solicitors.

Crime watch co-coordinator Angelo Norelli presented Martin with a crime watch T-shirt and said the judge's talk was very educational.

Co-coordinator Dave Kowalski said the group will try to have a guest speaker every month.

Martin lauded the group members for their participation and interest in making Glassport a safer place.

"Nobody knows your neighborhood like you know your neighborhood," the judge said.

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