Is Lock Picking Legal in the US? Find Out State by State

Key Takeaway

  • In general, lock-picking is not illegal in the United States until done with criminal intent, although some states do prohibit the possession of lock-picking tools. 
  • The legality of owning lock pick tools in the US varies by state. Ohio, Virginia and Nevada are states where possession of lock picking tools is considered a prima facie evidence.

The practice of lock picking has been around since Ancient Egypt and continues to evolve today. It can be seen as both a skillful craft and a necessary security measure, depending on how it is utilized.

Lock picking is the act of unlocking a lock by manipulating the components of the lock without using a key. It is a useful skill for locksmiths, law enforcement officers, and security professionals, but it is also a popular hobby for many people who are interested in locks and security like me. But is it legal?

In the US, the legality of owning and using lock picks varies from state to state. However, it is essential to note that whether or not it is legal to own lock picks in your state, it is illegal to break into a property without the owner’s consent.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the laws governing lock-picking in various states across the US. 

Legal Terms Concerning Owning Lock Pick Sets

The legality of lock picking is a complex issue and varies from state to state in the US. To understand the legal terms related to the art of lock picking, it’s essential to define a few key terms.

Prima Facie Evidence: This is evidence that is presented as true until it is disproved. In this case, if a person is caught with lock-picking tools, it would be considered prima facie evidence that the person intended to use them for illegal purposes. Ohio, Virginia, and Nevada are the three states in the US where possessing lock picks can land you with charges of Prima Facie Evidence.

Must Show Intent: Intent is an important factor in determining the legality of lock picking. For example, if someone has a lock-picking set and there is no evidence to suggest they were planning to use it for illegal activities, they may not be found guilty. However, if they are found to have been using the lock picking set to gain access to something they were not authorized to access, they may be held liable. 

Not Illegal: In certain states, there are no regulations specifically addressing lock picks or locksmithing tools. Consequently, lock picks are not explicitly prohibited, rendering their ownership lawful.

Is Lock Picking Legal in the United States?

Lock-picking is an important skill in the world of security professionals and law enforcement agents, but it is also practiced by hobbyists and curious minds. But what about legality? Is Lock Picking Legal in the United States? The answer to this question largely depends on which state you’re in.

Though lock picking does not require a physical tool such as a key or pick, some states consider possession of lock picks illegal, regardless of the owner’s intent.

Is Lock Picking Legal in the United States?

The states that explicitly forbid the possession of lock picks or keep an eye on the record of the sale of lockpicks include Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, and Nevada. 

On the other hand, some states have adopted laws that allow ownership of lock picks so long as they are used only for lawful purposes. These states include Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming.

State-by-State Breakdown of Lock-Picking Laws In The US

When it comes to the legality of lock-picking, there is no single answer that applies to all states in the US. Each state has its own laws and regulations regarding the possession and use of lock picks. Let’s take a look at what some of the more popular states have to say on the matter. 


In Texas, lock picking is not illegal. However, this does not mean that one can use lock picks without legal repercussions. For example, it is illegal to possess lock picks with the intention of breaking into a place or vehicle without permission. Using lock picks for malicious intent or criminal activity is also illegal. 


Possession of lock picks is not illegal in California, provided that the picker does not intend to use them for any illegal purposes. However, using a lock pick to gain access to a place or vehicle without permission is considered burglary and is a felony offense. The state also keeps a record of the sale of lock picks.


Possession of lock picks is not legal in Michigan and may cause you to face Prima Facie Evidence for the possession of the tool. However, lock picks can be used with the expressed permission of the owner of the property being entered. Unauthorized use of lock picks is considered breaking and entering and is a felony offense. 


Lockpicking is legal in Colorado as long as it is not done with the intent to commit a crime. The possession of lock picks is also legal in the state. 


Lock picking is legal in Idaho, provided that it is not done with the intent to commit a crime. Possession of lock picks is also legal, as long as they are not being used for any malicious purposes. 


 Possession of lock picks is legal in Washington as long as they are not used with the intention of committing a crime. It is also important to note that even if someone has permission to enter a building or vehicle, using a lock pick to do so could still be considered criminal trespass and result in criminal charges. 


Possession of a lock pick in Indiana is legal as long as it is not used with the intent to commit a crime.


Lockpicking is legal in Washington, provided that it is not done with the intention of breaking into someone else’s property or committing a crime. 


In Ohio, the possession of a lock pick may be prima facie evidence of criminal intent. However, using the lock pick to commit a crime is illegal and punishable by law. 


In Utah, the possession of a lock pick is legal and not considered a criminal offense. However, using the lock pick to commit a crime is illegal and punishable by law.


Connecticut law states that it is illegal to possess any type of device intended to be used to bypass security mechanisms, such as lock picks. This includes both traditional lock-picking tools and electronic bypass devices.

New York

In New York, the possession of lock picks is legal as long as it is not used for the purpose of committing a crime. It is also legal to purchase and use lock-picking tools for locksmithing purposes as long as the user does not intend to use them for illegal activities.

Overall, it is important to remember that even if lock picking is legal in your state, it must still be done with caution and only with permission from the property owner. Any use of a lock pick for malicious purposes or without permission can result in serious criminal charges.

Punishment For Lock-Picking In The US

The punishment for lock picking in the US can vary depending on the state and the circumstances of the crime. Generally, lock picking is considered a criminal trespass in most states. As such, it can be punishable by fines, jail time, or both. 

In some states, such as California, criminal trespass may carry a misdemeanor charge if there is no intent to commit a crime or damage property. If there is intent to commit a crime or damage property, then the charge can be raised to a felony. The punishment for a felony charge can range from prison time to expensive fines, depending on the severity of the crime and any prior criminal record.

In other states, such as Florida, lock picking can be charged as burglary, regardless of intent. Burglary is a felony offense and can carry sentences of up to 15 years in prison. 

In some states, such as New York and California, possession of lock-picking tools with intent to commit a crime is considered a felony offense. If convicted, you could face stiff fines and even prison time.

It is always best to consult with an attorney in your state to get an accurate picture of the law and potential punishment for lock picking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What happens if I get caught lock-picking?

Answer – Punishments for lock picking vary from state to state. In some states, it is considered a misdemeanor offense, while in others, it can be considered a felony. Depending on the severity of the offense, you could face fines, jail time, or both.

Q2. Are there any alternatives to lock-picking?

Answer – Yes. If you want to open a lock without a key, there are several non-destructive methods you can use, such as using a bump key or a credit card to open the lock. It’s important to research these methods before attempting them, as they may be illegal in some states.

Q3. Is it illegal to own a lock pick set?

Answer – This depends on the state. Some states prohibit the ownership of lock picks, while others allow it. It’s important to check the laws in your state before purchasing a lock pick set.


Lock-picking is a useful skill that can be beneficial in many situations. While it may not be legal in all states, it is still important to understand the laws governing this activity in the US. Each state has different regulations on owning lock-picking tools, and it’s important to know these laws in order to avoid any legal issues. If you plan on taking up the hobby of lock picking, make sure to look into the laws of your specific state to stay informed and protected.

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Hey! I am Mark. Though I am not a locksmith by profession, but locks have always fascinated me since my teens. And it all started when I got locked out of my house and I had to pick the lock. Since then it has become my hobby to learn more about different kinds of locks, understand their working and methods to pick them up. In due course of time, I have also become better aware of how installing the right lock goes a long way in ensuring iron clad security. I aim to share my passion (about locks) through this blog. If you are also passionate about picking locks or are just looking to beef up the security, hop on the ride.