Legality of Possessing Lock Picks

Possessing lockpicks is generally legal unless you live in Mississippi, Ohio, Nevada, or Virginia. Simple possession of lockpicks (often called burglars tools in statutes) is not an offense in most jurisdictions. Without getting too much into why this is, keep in mind that for the state to prosecute you for a crime they must generally show intent. Naturally, if a police officer stops you, he may question you as to why you are in possession of lock picks, a set of bump keys, etc. Of course, you are fully within your rights not to answer that question and invoke your right to remain silent. However, you will not be charged with a charge of possession of burglar’s tools (generally) unless you are actually using or about to use those tools to commit a crime.

Let’s look at Missouri’s statute for an example:

Possession of burglar’s tools.

569.180. 1. A person commits the crime of possession of burglar’s tools if he possesses any tool, instrument or other article adapted, designed or commonly used for committing or facilitating offenses involving forcible entry into premises, with a purpose to use or knowledge that some person has the purpose of using the same in making an unlawful forcible entry into a building or inhabitable structure or a room thereof.

2. Possession of burglar’s tools is a class D felony.

A cursory read through the statute will reveal that lockpicks would clearly be classified as a “tool” or “instrument” commonly used for committing or facilitating offenses involving forcible entry into premises. However, the statute also requires that the suspected burglar is going to use those tools, or knows of someone else going to use those tools to break into a building or house. Essentially, the state would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that you were going to commit a burglary with your lockpicks. Without intent in most states, the prosecution is dead in the water.

However, there are some states that consider possession of burglar’s tools to be “prima facie” evidence that you are going to commit a crime. These statutes are worded so that the state will not have to prove any intent, the fact that you are in possession of lockpicks alone will satisfy that requirement. 

I am not your attorney. Instead of listening to some guy on the internet, you should review the law in your state to ensure you are complying with the law at all times in your jurisdiction. The following chart was taken from LockWiki.

Legality in the United States, 50 State Survey

State Possession Reference(s)
Alabama Legal; must show intent 12
Alaska Legal; must show intent 1
Arizona Legal; must show intent 12
Arkansas Unknown, no specific laws
California Legal; must show intent 12
Colorado Legal; must show intent 1
Connecticut Legal; must show intent 12
Delaware Legal; must show intent 1
Florida Legal; must show intent 1
Georgia Legal; must show intent 1
Hawaii Legal; must show intent 12
Idaho Legal; must show intent 1
Illinois Legal; must show intent, bump keys require Certification 12 3 4
Indiana Unknown, no specific laws
Iowa Legal; must show intent 1
Kansas Unknown, no specific laws 12
Kentucky Legal; must show intent 1
Louisiana Legal; must show intent 12
Maine Legal; must show intent 12
Maryland Legal; must show intent 1
Massachusetts Legal; must show intent 1
Michigan Legal; must show intent 12
Minnesota Legal; must show intent 12
Mississippi Illegal; considered prima facie 12
Missouri Legal; must show intent 1
Montana Legal; must show intent (stated as “purpose to commit an offense”) 1
Nebraska Legal; must show intent 123
Nevada Illegal; considered prima facie 12
New Hampshire Legal; must show intent 1
New Jersey Legal; must show intent (stated as “purpose so to use or employ”) 12
New Mexico Legal; must show intent 1
New York Legal; must show intent 12
North Carolina Legal; must show intent 1234
North Dakota Unknown; no specific laws
Ohio Illegal; considered prima facie 12
Oklahoma Legal; must show intent 12
Oregon Legal; must show intent 12
Pennsylvania Unknown; no specific laws
Rhode Island Legal; must show intent 12
South Carolina Legal; must show intent 1
South Dakota Legal; must show intent 1
Tennessee Legal; must show intent 12
Texas Legal; must show intent 12
Utah Legal; must show intent 12
Vermont Legal; must show intent 1
Virginia Illegal; considered prima facie 123
Washington Legal; must show intent 12
Washington D.C. Legal; must show intent 1
West Virginia Unknown, no specific laws
Wisconsin Legal; must show intent 12
Wyoming Legal; must show intent 12