A violation occurs if the fortune teller can "stop bad luck," "give good luck," "win the affection of a person," or "tell where to dig for treasure," in return for "gain or lucre."
In 2009, a Chester County woman was prosecuted under the statute. “It certainly is a rare occasion to see someone prosecuted for fortune telling, but it is a viable statute," said Chester County Judge Anthony Sarcione.
In 2007, Philadelphia City inspectors shut down more than a dozen psychics, astrologers and tarot-card readers with the threat of prosecution. Inspectors did not make arrests or issue fines, “but they will if these people try to return to work,” said Dominic E. Verdi, deputy commissioner of the city Department of Licenses and Inspections.
Police alerted the department of the statute only days before the sweep. Verdi said, “I was surprised.”
The Philadelphia housing inspectors are not the only ones surprised by the statute. Thomas Young a Johnstown attorney wrote in 2010, that the last time the statute was the subject of appellate review was “in 1935 in the Cambria County Courthouse.”
Just across the line in Ohio, fortune telling is not illegal. In fact, the practice is licensed by the state. Fourteen years ago, a Louisiana federal judge struck down a 1982 ban on palm reading and fortune telling. Judge Tucker L. Melancon ruled that the town ordinance had violated its residents' First Amendment rights.
Things can even get a little murky in Pennsylvania. In 1988, the Monroeville Police Department worked with a psychic while searching for Sylvester Tonet a missing elderly man. The psychic directed police to his frozen corpse on a wooded hillside. A detective acknowledged he "doesn't like to believe that stuff but had to admit she put us in the area where the body was found."
(Image: Stockbyte/Getty Images)
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.