Forecasting the Future Could Get You 3 Months in a Cell

Predicting the future is against New York State criminal law. Penal Law, section 165.35.

So, who’s in trouble? There’s an exception for “entertainment or amusement” but that leaves serious people with a problem. The religious provision couldn’t stand up to Constitutional scrutiny, but what’s secular stays. Assume there’s no fraud.

A contracted business consultant, a salaried academic futurist, a serious war game player who’s in the military and thus paid, a buddy for whom you bought a few drinks who predicts the outcome of a game on TV, an investment advisor on commission so you’ll make a fortune, an insurance company accepting premiums, a NASA staff astronomer who predicts that the sun will rise tomorrow, a staff TV weather forecaster who predicts that it won’t because a morning thunderstorm will block the view, a Roma (formerly called a Gypsy) who, after a fee, assures you that you’ll find love soon, a research professor who is compensated and predicts almost anything on the basis of research already done, a salaried corporate executive who assesses upcoming sales and expenses, a secretary on wages who predicts that the mailed letter will be delivered in three days, and a community organizer getting a pittance and predicting either nonenforcement or that the state would have to build a fleet of prisons should watch their backs. Any of these people essentially “claims or pretends to tell fortunes”. They’re subject to imprisonment for up to three months. That might be three months per prediction.

Accenture is a consulting firm with nearly half a million employees worldwide, a New York office, and a market capitalization (stock price per share times number of shares outstanding) of over $100 billion. I think they predict the future for a lot of clients. For most of those clients, a client’s executive who liaises with Accenture probably turns to other executives and predicts their company’s future (“growth!”). There has to be at least a thousand executives ready for hard labor today.

Maybe, if they’re first offenders and they promise not to do it again, the judge will go easy on them.

But the statute is unconstitutional, I think. Depending on the clause applied, I think it fails the First Amendment on grounds of religious freedom or free speech and press. Time to celebrate.