Pop a Top Again: Iowa Supreme Court Says No Crime to Drink on the Front Porch

Colton Givens, KLJ Legal News Editor[1]

Homeowners and alcohol enthusiasts alike rejoiced on Friday when the Iowa Supreme Court announced its decision in State v. Paye.[2]  Reversing the respondent’s conviction for public intoxication, the Court held that “the front steps of a single-family home are not a public place . . . unless the home’s residents make them public by extending a general invitation to the public at large to come upon the property.”

The story of this intriguing case began nearly two years ago, when police were called to the home of Patience Paye on June 22, 2013.  Paye had called 911 to report a domestic violence assault by her boyfriend, Kendall Murray.  When police arrived, however, Murray told a different story.  He informed officers that Paye was intoxicated, and became irate when he refused to let her drive.

Paye had come out on her front porch to meet the officers when they arrived, and remained outside while they talked to Murray.  After hearing his story, officers then obtained a voluntary breath sample from Paye, who registered a 0.26 blood alcohol concentration (BAC).  She was arrested for public intoxication and domestic assault, but the latter charge was eventually dismissed.

At trial, Paye contended that the porch of her home was not “public” for the purpose of the state’s public intoxication statute.  The trial court rejected her argument, saying that it was visible to any passersby, and that any person would have an implied license to approach the home via the porch.  Paye was thus found guilty of public intoxication.

The Iowa Supreme Court rejected the trial court’s reasoning, saying that the purposes of the public intoxication statute, preventing public nuisance and protecting the public from harm, were not served by criminalizing the conduct of a person drinking on their own porch.  The Court distinguished Paye from a previous case, wherein it held that common areas and hallways of apartment complexes are public areas.  And while some members of the public would have an implied license to approach Paye’s home via her porch, the Court wrote that such a license is limited in scope, and does not render the porch “public” for all purposes.  However, the Court did note that a person can transform his or her porch into a public place by extending an invitation to the public at large.

Thus, there is cause for celebration in Iowa.  Citizens may now “sit [on the porch] 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 a grill with a bourbon-infused barbeque sauce” without committing a crime.  Whether Iowans will avail themselves of this newfound privilege is an open question.

[1] J.D. expected May 2016.

[2] The Court’s opinion may be accessed at http://www.iowacourts.gov/About_the_Courts/Supreme_Court/Supreme_Court_Opinions/Recent_Opinions/20150612/14-0183.pdf.