Lock picking is unlocking a lock by manipulating the components of the lock without using its key. Lock picks are commonly long, thin pieces of metal with different tips. These are designed to pick the pins in cylinder locks.
Lock-picking is often associated with criminal activity, such as breaking into homes during robberies or vehicle theft. However, lock picking is also an essential skill for those in the locksmith profession, and can help people who have been locked out of their own vehicles. Law-abiding citizens also learn the skill for their own legal use or locksport, the sport of defeating lock systems.
Lock picking and lock-picking tools are illegal in some countries, such as Japan. However, in many other countries, lock-picking tools are legal and available for purchase by everyday citizens as long as they have no intent to use them for criminal purposes.
Lock-picking tools and lock-picking are available and legal in the United States. In the majority of U.S. states and the District of Columbia, lock picking is legal by statute. In these states, the person lock picking must show intent.
In other states, there are no specific laws regarding lock picking. Therefore, lock picking is legal by lack of statute. These states are:
In four states, lock picking is legal but further caution is merited. Those four states are Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia. In these states, the person may have to counter prima facie evidence regarding the intent of their possessing lock-picking tools. This means that they would need to prove that the first impression of possessing these tools for criminal purposes is incorrect.
In Tennessee, lock-pick laws are ambiguous, and context should be considered. Tennessee has laws that target criminal lock picking, and they are very broadly written. This is done to prevent people from paying money to scammer locksmiths. If individuals are not lock picking for profit, the use and demonstration of lock picking appear to be legal.
Below is a table of each state’s lock pick legality. For more information on each state’s specific laws, please follow the source listed.
Lock Pick Legality
|Arkansas||Legal (No Statute)|
|District of Columbia||Legal (Statute)|
|Illinois||Legal (Statute)||bump keys written into law|
|Indiana||Legal (No Statute)|
|Kansas||Legal (Statute)||fingerprinting written into law|
|Mississippi||Caution||if pickes are concealed, may have to counter prima facie evidence of intent|
|Nevada||Caution||may have to counter prima facie evidence of intent|
|New Hampshire||Legal (Statute)|
|New Jersey||Legal (Statute)|
|New Mexico||Legal (Statute)|
|New York||Legal (Statute)|
|North Carolina||Legal (No Statute)||locksmithing is regulated|
|North Dakota||Legal (No Statute)|
|Pennsylvania||Legal (No Statute)|
|Rhode Island||Legal (Statute)|
|South Carolina||Legal (Statute)|
|South Dakota||Legal (Statute)|
|Tennessee||Ambiguous||legal if done not for profit; possession criminalized if person is seeking to earn money by defrauding public|
|Virginia||Caution||may have to counter prima facie evidence of intent|
|West Virginia||Legal (No Statute)|