Iowa SC Gives OK to Being Drunk on Porch

     DES MOINES – It’s OK – legally, that is – to get drunk on your front porch without having to worry about being charged for public intoxication, says Iowa Supreme Court.
     The ruling stems from a 911 call to police from a squabbling couple. In 2013, Waterloo resident Patience Paye called the police, alleging domestic abuse. When the police arrived, they questioned Paye’s boyfriend, who told them the couple had an on-again off-again relationship that often resulted in fights, especially when Paye was drinking.
     On this occasion, Paye had punched her boyfriend in the eye when he had told her she was too drunk to drive. Paye, who had come out onto the front porch so as not to disturb her children, told police she was sober, though she admitted to having a single shot earlier in the day.
     However, when Paye blew a breathalyzer, her blood alcohol registered as first a 0.267 and then a 0.264, more than three times the state’s legal limit. She was subsequently arrested for public intoxication, and because Paye had a previous “drunk in public” charge to her name, the arrest counted as a serious rather than simple misdemeanor.
     During the trial, Paye’s attorneys showed that the entrance way of her house was not a public place: it had metal railings, was enclosed, and Paye had not exited her home except to meet police when they arrived.
     Black Hawk County District Dourt, however, ruled her porch was public because it was plainly accessible and visible to passersby.
     Upon appeal, Iowa’s Supreme Court disagreed, finding state statutes prohibiting public drunkenness were not intended to apply to a homeowner’s front stoop.
     “We recognize that salespeople, neighbors, and other subsets of the public possess an implied license or invitation to approach Paye’s front stairs,” Justice Daryl Hecht wrote in the June 12 opinion. “Yet, we conclude there is a significant difference between the implied invitation allowing people to approach the front stairs of a single-family residence.”
     The court’s ruling was an exercise in distinctions: it contrasted Paye’s house with that of an apartment building, where multiple tenants often use a single entryway, and a business, where an open invitation was not only expected but encouraged.
     “A business generally wants as many people as possible to accept the invitation; we doubt the same is true for most inhabitants of single-family homes,” Hecht wrote.
     The court also distinguished between the front steps of an apartment building and the front steps of a house; whereas the former could be considered public space, the latter could not because a single tenant had the ability to bar access to the home. It also relied on previous case law that determined that the inside of a car was not deemed a public place, even though it is in public view.
     Had the court ruled otherwise, it could have had drastic implications.
     “If the front stairs of a single-family residence are always a public place, it would be a crime to sit there calmly on a breezy summer day and sip a mojito, celebrate a professional achievement with a mixed drink of choice, or even baste meat on the grill with a bourbon-infused barbeque sauce-unless one first obtained a liquor license,” Hecht wrote.

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