FORTUNE TELLING AND THE LAW



The legal status of spiritualists, psychics, fortunetellers and healers has often been a precarious one. While some police forces admit that they turn to Apsychic detectives@ when they need assistance in solving a crime, others won=t consider the idea. The use of Apsychic readings@ for entertainment is widespread, but when law enforcement and district attorneys believe that practitioners cross the line into fraud, they trigger local ordinances under the municipal police power to prevent what they consider to be deceptive practices.

In some cases, what constitutes Afortunetelling@ is in question, since divination has historically been a part of many religious practices, and also implicates the right of assocation and the right of free speech. A recent Louisiana case illustrates this point.

In November 1999, a federal judge in New Iberia, Louisiana, struck down that city's 1982 ban on palm reading and fortunetelling. Judge Tucker L. Melancon ruled that the town had violated its residents' First Amendment rights. Lawyers for New Iberia argued that the ban protected the welfare of its 32,000 citizens by cracking down on fraud and unfair trade practices. Framing the fight as a free speech issue, Melissa Long, a fortuneteller, joined psychic reader Ray Trimble and the American Civil Liberties Union in suing the city over the closure of Trimble's shop. After the ruling Long commented that the decision was a "victory for free speech" that "brings New Iberia up to the times."

Other states have examined similar statutes and regulations.

California

Spiritual Psychic Science Church v. City of Asuza, 39 Cal. 3d 501; 703 P. 2d 1119 (1985).

North Carolina

N.C. 14-401.5 ("Anti-divination law"). Links and further information

Ohio

Davis v. Ohio, 118 Ohio St. 25; 160 N.E. 473 (1928).

Constitutional Provisions: Federal and Louisiana

United States. Constitution. Amendment I.

Louisiana Const. Art. I.

Selected Municipal Ordinances (Louisiana)

City of East Baton Rouge

Sec. 12:404. Fortune telling.

What is known as Afortune telling,@ Apalmistry,@ Areading futures,@ and the like within the city is declared a nuisance and is prohibited, and persons plying these vocations shall, upon conviction, be subject to a fine not exceeding twenty dollars ($20.00) or imprisoned not exceeding fifteen days (15) days, or both, at the discretion of the judge, who shall have the authority to require that persons violating the provisions of this section leave the city.

City of Kenner

Chapter 10 Licenses and Taxation. Article XI. Fortunetellers. Sec. 10-226. Application.

Any person desiring to practice fortune telling shall make application for a license to the department of inspections and code enforcement on forms to be prepared by said department. This form shall include at a minimum the following: (1) The full name and address of the applicant (2) Any aliases by which the applicant has ever been known (3) Each address of the applicant, including municipal number, city and state, for the last five (5) years (4) A statement that the applicant has not been convicted of a felony, plead guilty or nolo contendere to a felony or two or more prior misdemeanors involving crimes of theft and/or violence (5) Written authorization to the police department to obtain fingerprints and criminal history background checks of the applicant (6) Furnish the department of inspections and code enforcement with two photographs showing a front and side picture of the full face of the applicant, size 2 2 by 2 2/3 inches.

Annotations

Sarno, Gregory G., Annotation: Regulation of Astrology, Clairvoyancy, Fortunetelling, and the Like, 91 A. L. R. 3d 766 (1999).

AThis annotation collects and analyzes the judicial decisions concerning the validity, construction, operation, or effect of statutes or ordinances which explicitly prohibit or regulate, directly or through taxation, astrology, clairvoyancy, fortunetelling, and similar spiritualistic or psychic endeavors. However, statutes and ordinances are treated herein only insofar as they are discussed in the reported cases, and this annotation does not purport to reflect the current legislative and municipal enactments of any particular jurisdiction.@

Annotation: Admissibility to establish fraudulent purpose or intent, in prosecution for obtaining or attempting to obtain money or property by false pretenses, of evidence of similar attempts on other occasions, 78 A. L. R. 2d 1359 (1997).

AThis annotation supplements one in 80 ALR 1306, and discusses the later cases involving prosecutions for obtaining money or property by false pretenses in which the question has arisen as to whether evidence of other similar offenses may be admitted to show the fraudulent purpose or intent of the accused.@

For more, see the related sections:

Fortunetelling, 36 Am. Jur. 2d '1,2

Vagrancy, 77 Am. Jur. 2d ' 22

The Law of Other Countries

Canada

Article 365 of the Canadian Criminal Code. "365. [323] Everyone who fraudulently(a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration (b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or (c) pretends from his skill in knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found, is guilty of an offense punishable on summary conviction." Note that this statute, while it has not been challenged, may contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is based on a similar English statute from 1951, the Fraudulent Mediums Act.

Selected Monographs

Coleman, Walter, Astrology and the Law (1977).

Law Library BF 1701 .C65

 

Rubenstein, I. H., A Treatise on Contemporary Religious Jurisprudence (1948).

Law Library BL 65 .L33 R8

 

Selected Law Review Articles

Johnson, Caroline E., Protecting the Animals: The Free Exercise Clause and the Prevention of Ritual Sacrifice, 21 Fla. St. U. L. Rev 1295 (1994).

Luna, Erik Grant, Of Gypsies, Juries, and Judges: Constitutional Adjudication in Trial Courts, 26 Sw. U. L. Rev. 303 (1997).

White, Brendan, Sacrificial Rights: The Conflict Between Free Exercise of Religion and Animal Rights, 9 St. John=s J. L. Comm. 835 (1994).

Young, Martha M., The Salem Witch Trial 300 Years Later: How Far Has the American Legal System Come? How Much Further Does It Need to Go? 64 Tulane L. Rev. 235 (1989).

Selected Articles and Transcripts in the Popular Press

Consumer Watch (Oklahoma)

Fortune Tellers To Be Tried in Finnish Court, Nordic Bus. Rep., December 7, 1999.

Godfrey, Tom, Crystal Balls In Mothballs; 6 Fortune Tellers Arrested, Toronto Sun, December 16, 1999, at 42.

Rozas, Angela, Curse Concocted in Con Game, Cops Say, Times-Picayune, June 22, 1999, at B1.

McMahon, Barbara, Future Looks Bleak For Fake Fortune Tellers, Evening Standard, February 22, 1999, at 18.

Prete, Carmelina, Psychic=s Fee Conjures Unforeseen Fraud Charge, Toronto Star, January 26, 2000 (LEXIS NEWS Library, CURNWS File).

Reversal of Fortune: Undercover Investigation into Fortune-Telling Scams, Dateline, June 30, 1999 (LEXIS NEWS Library, CURNWS File).

Selected Websites

The Psychics Directory

The X-Chronicles

 

Online Catalog Subject Headings

Fortune-telling

Parapsychology

Parapsychology and crime

 

Christine Corcos

May 9, 2000


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