Judge upholds right of Iowans to be drunk on the front porch

The Iowa Supreme Court today upheld the right of its citizens to get drunk on the front porch.

It ruled in the case of Patience Paye of Waterloo, who was arrested two years ago by police responding to a domestic violence case. She didn’t want her children to be upset, so she stepped onto her front porch to talk to the authorities. She had been arguing with a man who didn’t want her to drive drunk and wouldn’t give her the keys. She also didn’t have a license.

The police said she was the aggressor in the argument, so they arrested her on a charge of public intoxication.

In the ruling today, Justice Daryl Hecht acknowledged that the Iowa Supreme Court had previously ruled that the front steps and common hallway of an apartment house are public places, but he said a single-family home is another story.

We recognize that salespeople, neighbors, and other subsets of the public possess an implied license or invitation to approach Paye’s front stairs. In another context, business patrons enjoy an implied license or invitation to enter shops and stores in furtherance of commerce. Business premises are commonly considered public places for purposes of public intoxication statutes.

Yet, we conclude there is a significant difference between the implied invitation extended to a prospective customer of a business and the implied invitation allowing people to approach the front stairs of a single-family residence. The difference is the expectation of the person or enterprise deemed to have extended the invitation. 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.

Although people can use Paye’s front stairs to approach her home for limited purposes—for example, to sell a product, to talk about important civic issues, or to borrow a cup of sugar—Paye’s implied consent to their entry upon her property “does not confer a right on the public to enter [it] at will” or constitute a generalized invitation for access to the public.

This notable difference between implied invitations of general and limited scope strongly influences our determination that Paye’s front steps were not a public place under the circumstances presented here.

Hecht said any other interpretation would have far-reaching consequences for Iowans who don’t want to drive drunk.

Additionally, holding the front steps of a single-family home are always a public place would mean any intoxicated person who responsibly secures a ride home from a sober designated driver could be arrested for and convicted of public intoxication because they traversed the stairs of their single-family house while intoxicated. Iowans “should not suffer a criminal penalty for taking . . . responsible action.”

It’s worth noting, for the record, that although it turned out the police didn’t have a legal standing for arresting the woman, they kept a drunk off the road.

Here’s the full ruling.