UPDATES & ANALYSIS

4.07

Does Iowa’s public-intox law apply to your front steps?

by Ryan Koopmans | April 7, 2015

By Ryan Koopmans

Tomorrow night in Decorah, the Iowa Supreme Court will hear competing arguments over whether Iowa’s public-intoxication statute applies to the front steps of a house.  

On June 22, 2013, just before midnight, Waterloo police officers were responding to a domestic-dispute call at a single-family residence and were met at the front steps by Patience Paye, the woman who had reported the incident.  After investigating, the officers decided that Paye was actually the aggressor, so they arrested her for domestic assault and public intoxication. (Paye had failed a breath test.) 

Paye was convicted of both charges, but is now arguing on appeal that she can’t be punished for being drunk on the front steps, because the front steps aren’t “public.”

The State disagrees.  Iowa law says that it’s illegal to be “intoxicated in a public place,” and it defines “public place” as “any place, building or conveyance to which the public has or is permitted access.”  Because the public is generally given access to a house’s front steps (think salesmen), the State says that those steps must be dry. 

The issue isn’t totally new for the Iowa Supreme Court.  In 2003, the justices decided, on a 5-2 vote, that the front steps of an apartment complex were “public” for purposes of the public-intoxication statute.  But the justices also recognized that the steps of a single-family home might be different.  “While the the front steps of a single-family home permit regular access for the homeowners and their guests,” then-Justice Cady wrote, “the front steps of the apartment house are a common thoroughfare through which each tenant and their guests must pass.”  “Moreover,” Justice Cady continued, “while a single individual or family may bar access to the front steps of a single-family home, no single tenant holds the right to bar access to the apartment house.”

Because of these differences, the Court left “for another day any other questions related to the character of the front steps of a single-family home.”

That day is tomorrow.  The argument will take place at the Decorah High School auditorium at 7:00 p.m.  The public is encouraged to attend.

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