A friend of mine gave me his keys to his vehicle so I could clear off the front seat. My friend was not with me at the vehicle at this time, but I was taking a book bag from the front seat, moving it to the trunk when I was approached by law enforcement and after being detained and being searched and patted down they removed the keys off my belt loop. On the keyring were 7 jiggler keys and I was arrested and charged with manufacture etc motor vehicle master keys, possession of an instrument of crime with intent. Fast forward to my preliminary hearing, and the charge possession of an instrument of crime with intent was dismissed but the other was held. Now in the state of Pennsylvania it says that having lock pick tools in your possession can be illegal if used in a crime or intent to be used in a crime. Since the possession of an instrument of crime with intent charge was dropped then wouldn’t that eliminate the other charge and prove my innocence to dismiss the case altogether since possessing the keys isn’t illegal unless used in a crime or with intent?

2 Answers 2


That's a very poorly written law! Unless they have defined 'fit' elsewhere as completely different to an ordinary interpretation of that word. A master key is designed to operate two or more locks with different normal keys using the same action as a normal key. I assume the omitted exceptions were about vehicle manufacturers or supply chain vehicle handlers or logistics companies who have legitimate reasons for requiring master keys (though I don't know if they actually make these in reality, as they diminish the security of a lock). Possibly locksmiths were included as well, but I doubt it as vehicle companies are not in the habit of granting locksmiths master keys for all their vehicles.

By the above definition, literally any key that fits in the lock is a 'master key'. Even if we assume 'fit' is supposed to imply 'operate as the lock's specific key would', it's still completely absurd to define a jiggler as a 'master key'. You can open a lock with a piece of bent wire if you're determined and skilled enough. Or a drill, for that matter. A jiggler key is a tool ('lockpick tool', and therefore potentially an 'instrument of crime' if you intended to use it as such), not a master key. If you include this in your definition of 'master key', where do you stop? Bent wires? Drills? Someone else's worn car key that doesn't match this vehicle's key but conceivably could be used if jiggled around enough?

If your lawyer can't find suitable precedent refuting this mistaken definition, then you should be able to find a vehicle locksmith who will provide expert evidence that a jiggler is not a master key.

  • 2
    Welcome to Law.SE. Can you cite any authority that this is not how Pennsylvania interprets that law?
    – Ryan M
    Dec 23, 2020 at 13:34
  • "A master key is designed to operate two or more locks with different normal keys using the same action as a normal key." - actually, this legislation defines what it means by the term "master key", and includes no such criteria that the "action used" must be that of an ordinary key. A "piece of bent wire", despite fitting the lock, may not be a master key because it does not seem to be a key at all - if however a piece of bent wire were treated as a key, and if it was specifically adapted to open multiple locks, then under the legislation it would appear to be a "master key".
    – Steve
    Dec 25, 2020 at 14:24
  • @Steve "actually, this legislation defines what it means by the term "master key", and includes no such criteria that the "action used" must be that of an ordinary key." Umm... Yes it does. It says a master key is "any KEY adapted to fit..." If its not a key its not a master key. Things used unlike keys are not keys. Therefore things used unlike keys are not master keys.
    – Matt
    Dec 26, 2020 at 20:10
  • @Matt, yes, we're already in agreement that if it's not a key of any sort, then it cannot be a master key. But I don't agree that a jiggler key is being used "unlike a key". I accept it is not being used in the normal "turnkey" fashion like a freshly manufactured, but it is not beyond experience to jiggle an ordinary key (in fact I have two locks at home that almost always require jiggling), and in the case of a jiggler key, the ability to jiggle over a wide range is exactly it's adaptation compared to an ordinary key. (1/2)
    – Steve
    Dec 26, 2020 at 21:14
  • Moreover, if your definition were accepted, that a key must fit the lock exactly and turn without special technique, then it would seem impossible for an adapted master key to even exist. Rather, the locks themselves would have to be adapted to accept more than one exact key profile, meaning that it is the lock that would carry the adaptation to be opened by multiple keys (which need not themselves be master keys capable of operating multiple locks), not the key adapted to open multiple locks. (2/2)
    – Steve
    Dec 26, 2020 at 21:22

The "manufacture etc." law seems to be this one:

§ 909. Manufacture, distribution or possession of master keys for motor vehicles

(a) Offense defined.– A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he manufactures, distributes, or possesses any motor vehicle master key.

[inapplicable exceptions omitted]

(c) Definition.–As used in this section “master key” means any key adapted to fit the ignition switch, trunk or door of two or more motor vehicles, the ignition switches, trunks or doors of which are designed to be operated by keys.

You were in possession of a master key as defined by the law, so you are guilty of the offence.

  • 2
    Do you have any case law to back up your interpretation? Jigglers take at least a bit of technique to use, and are not expected to directly "fit" any lock, arguably fitting zero locks. By applying the same technique an ordinary key could likewise open locks it doesnt directly fit.
    – Matt
    Oct 10, 2020 at 2:34
  • 1
    Jigglers need to be jiggled to make the lock operate, if just inseted and turned the normal way they don't unlock a lock unless it is set up to let any key open it.
    – Trish
    Dec 23, 2020 at 13:55
  • @Matt, the question is whether they are "adapted to fit...two or more locks". A key which "fits" is arguably any key which operates the lock when inserted and applied in accordance with the way that key works - it doesn't seem to me that the technique with the key must be trivial, or that the key must fit in the same way the lockmaker envisaged. With an "ordinary key" however, the question is whether it was ever adapted to fit multiple locks, not merely that it does in fact fit multiple locks (by coincidence, by wear and tear, etc.).
    – Steve
    Dec 23, 2020 at 23:57
  • @Steve Hmm... I think thats a weird definition of "fit". It seems more reasonable to judge if it fits in accordance with the way the lock is expected to work. It is also in the context of a "master key" If the key can't be used the way keys are typically used, is it really a key? Are lockpicks master keys according to this definition? Surely not. If you cant just insert it and turn it, its not a key that fits.
    – Matt
    Dec 24, 2020 at 0:04
  • @Matt, I don't think it is an unreasonable interpretation in the context. A key is any device that operates a lock - and doesn't, for example, smash the lock to pieces. The fact that the "master key" must be jiggled is precisely on account of its adaptation to fit two or more locks - that is, the ability to open multiple locks by a jigging action is precisely how that key is designed to work and is positively adapted differently from an ordinary key. It may not fit any given lock well by the engineering standards of lockmakers, but it does fit well enough to open two or more such locks.
    – Steve
    Dec 24, 2020 at 9:57

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