The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled the front porch of a private residence is not a public place.
The ruling comes in the case of a Patience Paye of Waterloo who was charged in 2013 with public intoxication after coming out onto her front porch to talk with police about a fight she had with her boyfriend. Paye appealed her conviction, saying her front steps were not a public place.
The Supreme Court had ruled 12 years ago that the front steps and common hallway of an apartment house are public places because access is required by everyone. It did not address the issue of the front steps of a private residence.
In this ruling the justices say while people can use Paye’s front stairs to approach her home for limited purposes — like selling a product or to borrow a cup of sugar — allowing them to do so is not a general invitation to the public to use the steps. It says, unlike tenants in an apartment building, the residents of a single-family home have the right of selecting guests or visitors and a legal right to exclude people any time and under all circumstances
The ruling also says if the front stairs of a single-family residence are always a public place, “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 barbeque sauce. We do not think the legislature intended Iowa law to be so heavy-handed.”
The High Court additionally says ruling 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.
The court reversed Paye’s public intoxication conviction.
Here’s the full court ruling: Front porch ruling PDF