Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why owners of single-family houses don't have to paint a white line on their front porch

With all of the stuff in the news about privacy - Google Glassholes walking into bars, cameras in the UK and elsewhere (DISCLOSURE: I am employed in this particular industry), and other things - there is a lot of debate about what is considered "public," and what is considered "private."

For example, if you are in Iowa and are drunk on private property, can you be cited for public intoxication?

Answer: it depends.

The short version of this story: Patience Paye and her boyfriend were having an argument, and the police were called. Paye stepped out onto her front porch to talk with the police, since she didn't want to disturb her children. On the porch, the police wanted to determine if she was drunk or not. They didn't make her walk a white line, but they administered a breathalyzer test and determined that Paye had a blood alcohol content of at least 0.264. She was arrested for public intoxication.

The defense argued that Paye's front porch was not a public place, while the prosecution argued that it was.

Eventually the case made it to the Iowa Supreme Court, who heard it at an Iowa high school.

Courthouse News reporded the judge's decision.

"We recognize that salespeople, neighbors, and other subsets of the public possess an implied license or invitation to approach Paye's front stairs," Justice Daryl Hecht wrote in the June 12 opinion. "Yet, we conclude there is a significant difference between the implied invitation allowing people to approach the front stairs of a single-family residence."

That "single-family residence" part is key. What if Paye were in front of a business? Then, her arrest would be valid.

"A business generally wants as many people as possible to accept the invitation; we doubt the same is true for most inhabitants of single-family homes," Hecht wrote.

OK, what if Paye lived in an apartment?

The court also distinguished between the front steps of an apartment building and the front steps of a house; whereas the former could be considered public space, the latter could not because a single tenant had the ability to bar access to the home.

So if you're drunk on the front porch of a single-family home, you're not intoxicated in public. But if you're in front of a business or apartment, you may be.

To make things even more confusing, a street is a public place. But what if you're in your car, parked on the street?

It also relied on previous case law that determined that the inside of a car was not deemed a public place, even though it is in public view.

But what about a van? A commuter van? A van operated by a religious organization? A van which is not yet paid off?

Law is hard.

P.S. Paye's reaction is not known, although she was apparently in Minnesota on May 15.
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