Court: Iowa residents have right to be drunk on front porch

Jun 12, 2015, 2:24 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The right to be drunk on the front porch of a private home was endorsed Friday by the Iowa Supreme Court, which said a woman can’t be convicted of public intoxication while standing on her front steps.

Patience Paye, 29, of Waterloo based the appeal of her 2013 case on the contention that her front steps are not a public place so she can’t be charged with public intoxication.

Justices agreed, rejecting a district court judge’s conclusion that Paye’s front porch was a public place because it was plainly accessible and visible to any passers-by and it was a place to which the public is permitted access.

“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. We do not think the legislature intended Iowa law to be so heavy-handed,” Justice Daryl Hecht wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion.

Paye’s attorney, Public Defender Rachel Regenold said it’s an important property rights and personal liberty ruling.

“There was a concern how this could be extended if the court had found that front steps or front porches were public,” she said.

Iowa Attorney General spokesman Geoff Greenwood said prosecutors “respect the court’s ruling which has a narrow scope in that it addresses intoxication while a person is on the front porch of a single family home.”

Paye called police around midnight June 22, 2013, after fighting with her boyfriend who told police he kept Paye’s car keys from her because she was drunk. Officers questioned Paye on the front steps of her home and got her to agree to a breath test which revealed a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.267 percent, more than three times the amount considered drunk if she were driving. She was charged with public intoxication and domestic assault and taken to the police station. The domestic assault charge was later dropped.

In ordering the case dismissed, the Supreme Court said that Iowa is among only a few states to criminalize public drunkenness. Hecht highlights in the opinion that some states including Montana, North Carolina and North Dakota specifically prohibit a person from being prosecuted solely for public intoxication.

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Court: Iowa residents have right to be drunk on front porch