Fines for fortune telling are not so fine

By Cathy Wang | Opinions Editor

Up to a year of jail time and a $2500 fine – that’s the punishment you get for fortune telling in Pennsylvania. Specifically, it is illegal to charge money for fortune telling, which includes predictions about someone’s life, palm reading, astrological interpretations, casting spells, and prescribing potions.

The law originated in 1861, prompted by occultist Charles Roback. Roback earned money by tricking many people that he had magical powers to treat any issues they had. He gained fame quickly through newspaper advertisements, alarming Pennsylvania legislature. Pennsylvania’s statute attempts to protect gullible citizens from fraud.

Although not a popular crime to commit, the most recent case occurred in June 2015, when 38-year-old April Uwanawich was charged with 55 counts of fortune telling and theft by deception. According to a Reuters’ article, clients paid her tens of thousands of dollars to eliminate a “dark cloud… of evils, spells, and curses” from them. She actually holds the record for most fortune telling arrests in Pennsylvania in the 21st century.

New York has a similar law, where fortune telling is prohibited if people believe it is real. Other states, including California, believe it is within First Amendment rights to tell fortunes; people just have to be smart enough not to fall for it.