At what point does a private space become a public space? Are you in public as soon as you step out the door, even if you’re on the front steps of your own home? The difference between the two constitutes a specific legal distinction—especially for raging alcoholics looking to avoid public intoxication charges.
Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed a ruling in just such a case, according to The Consumerist. A woman who was arrested for being drunk in public while standing on the front steps of her home had her conviction overturned after the court ruled that the front steps of a single-family home is not a public space, even if there isn’t any sort of porch or fence to separate it from the street.
“[I]f 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—unless one first obtained a liquor license,” the court concluded with an air of rationality often not seen in the American legal system. “Additionally…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.”
For those who feel like this new ruling seems obvious, the decision isn’t as cut and dry as you might think. For instance, Iowa courts previously ruled that the front stairs of an apartment building could be considered a public space because other residents of the building could be considered “the public.” Additionally, a homeowner could theoretically turn their front steps into a public space by hosting a yard sale or holding an open house. However, in the case in question, the defendant simply walked onto her steps to speak with police, so neither of those examples applied.
So for every Iowan who wants to shotgun cans of Bud Light Lime on their stoop, consider this ruling a huge victory. But before lining up shots of Fireball on your own front steps, make sure to check which state you’re in. The laws may vary in other parts of the Union.
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