Criminal Justice

Woman can't be convicted of public intoxication for drunkenness on porch, state supreme court rules

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The Iowa Supreme Court has overturned the public intoxication conviction of a woman who was arrested on the front steps of her single family home, finding that the area is not a public space within the meaning of the statute.

The court ruled on Friday in the case of Patience Paye, 29, of Waterloo, report the Associated Press, the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Washington Post, Iowa Public Radio and the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. How Appealing noted the decision (PDF).

The front steps of a single-family home are not a public space unless the home’s residents extend a general invitation to the public to come on the property, the court said.

The term “public place” is used in another sentence of the statute governing liquor licenses, and the phrase should have the same meaning in both parts of the statute, the court said.

“If the front stairs of a single-family residence are always a public place,” the court said, “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 barbecue sauce—unless one first obtained a liquor license. We do not think the legislature intended Iowa law to be so heavy-handed.”

Paye was arrested in June 2013 after calling Waterloo police to report she was the victim of domestic violence. Paye stepped outside to speak with officers because she did not want to upset her children inside the home. The alleged aggressor told police that Paye had punched him after he refused to give her the car keys because she was intoxicated and did not have a driver’s license.

Police then tested Paye on the front steps, twice, and recorded blood alcohol levels of 0.267 and 0.264. Police charged Paye with public intoxication and domestic assault, but later dropped the domestic assault charge.

The court ruled 12 years ago that the front steps and public hallways of an apartment are public spaces, but did not reach the question of whether the front steps of a single-family home were public spaces.

Misspelling of Paye’s name in sixth paragraph corrected on June 16.

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