Front porch not public space, Iowa Supreme Court rules

Waterloo woman had been charged with being drunk outside her home

Iowa Supreme Court Justices Bruce Zager (from left), Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman, Brent Appel, Daryl Hecht, David Wiggins, and Chief Justice Mark Cady wait for the start of the Condition of the State address at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
Iowa Supreme Court Justices Bruce Zager (from left), Edward Mansfield, Thomas Waterman, Brent Appel, Daryl Hecht, David Wiggins, and Chief Justice Mark Cady wait for the start of the Condition of the State address at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Iowa Supreme Court overturned a Waterloo woman’s conviction for public intoxication, ruling Friday she was intoxicated on the front porch of her home — which isn’t a public place according to law.

Waterloo police arrested Patience Paye after she reported a domestic violence incident on June 22, 2013, according to the ruling. Paye stepped outside on the porch when officers arrived because she didn’t want to upset her children inside the home.

Kendrall Murray, who Paye said had abused her, told police he and Paye argued over car keys because he refused to let her drive because she didn’t have a license and was intoxicated, according to the ruling.

Murray told an officer they frequently argued when Paye was drinking.

The officers then asked Paye if she had been drinking alcohol that day, which she initially denied, but then admitted having “one shot earlier in the day.”

Paye agreed to a breath test, which showed her blood-alcohol level was 0.267 percent. The officers took another test several minutes later, showing 0.264.

Iowa’s legal limit for driving is .08.

The officers determined Paye was the aggressor in the argument and arrested her on a public intoxication charge.

During a bench trial, Paye argued the front steps of her home were not a public place and she couldn’t be convicted of public intoxication, according to the ruling.

She further argued the purpose of the public intoxication statute is to prevent nuisance and annoyance to the public, and on that night there was no evidence the public considered her to be a nuisance.

According to the ruling, the trial judge rejected Paye’s arguments and concluded her porch was public because it was “plainly accessible and visible to any passer-by.” The judge also ruled Paye’s porch was public within the meaning of the law — a place where the public was permitted access.

But the justices agreed with Paye. If the front stairs of a family home were always considered a public place, it would create “absurd results” and make it a “crime to sit there calmly on a breezy summer day and sip a mojito” or even grill with “bourbon-infused barbecue sauce,” the court concluded.

The case was sent back to District Court for dismissal.

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