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Iowa: Court Allows Drinking Alcohol Allowed In Parking Lots
Iowa Court of Appeals rules that most traffic laws do not apply to parking lots.

Drinking behind the wheel
Iowa motorists who wish to drink while behind the wheel of an automobile can do so -- as long as they do not leave the liquor store parking lot. The state Court of Appeals came to that conclusion last week in the case of Lacey Rose Brown, who was arrested in a Des Moines parking lot on August 10, 2013 after an officer noticed she had an open container of alcohol in the center console of her vehicle. Officer Walter Garrett insisted that this was illegal, so he and his partner approached and searched her vehicle.

"A driver of a motor vehicle upon a public street or highway shall not possess in the passenger area of the motor vehicle an open or unsealed bottle, can, jar, or other receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage," Iowa Code Section 321.284 states.

The question of whether a parking lot is a "public street or highway" is not settled. Last month, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that laws against certain "serious traffic offenses" applied to private lots (view ruling). Likewise, Polk County, Iowa Judge Odell G. McGhee II ruled against Brown holding that the public's widespread use of the lot made it a "public street or highway" where the state's open container law applies. On this point, even the arresting officer thought differently.

"I would not consider it a public space... you can't just sit there," Officer Garrett testified. "We're, you know, supposed to walk up to them and see why they're just standing there. Just to make sure everything is okay. So I guess as far as the loitering policy, you can't just stand there."

The unanimous three-judge appellate panel cited a 1969 state Supreme Court decision involving the possession of a gun in a parking lot to hold that a private parking lot is fundamentally private. The judges decided the same reasoning applied to the circumstances at hand.

"Here, the public had implied permission from the owner to park in the lot at certain times, but otherwise the use of the lot was restricted to persons having permits from the proprietor that allowed them to park there," Chief Judge David R. Danilson wrote for the court. "Thus, the lot was not 'open to the use of the public, as a matter of right' as required by the definition for a public street or highway."

Because the search was invalid, the evidence against Brown -- a small amount of marijuana found under her seat -- was suppressed. A copy of the decision is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Iowa v. Brown (Court of Appeals, State of Iowa, 7/22/2015)

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