3

I am interested in learning about lockpicking as a hobby. I have heard from others that intent to use the picks for something otherwise illegal is what can actually get you into trouble, but I have not found anything to back this up.

According to the Open Organization of Lockpickers, Pennsylvania does not have any specific laws. Is this true?

3

There is a relevant law, Title 18 section 907 which states that "A person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree if he possesses any instrument of crime with intent to employ it criminally". So possession of lock picks is not a crime per se. In Com. v. Gendrachi 389 A.2d 604 we are reminded that "intent need not be directly proved, but may be inferred from the circumstances surrounding the incident out of which the charges arise". The accused was busted in mildly suspicious circumstances at 5:20 am in the dead of winter, urinating. The court notes that "There is no evidence that appellant's hands were on the door or that he made an attempt to extract the tools from his pocket and apply them to the door. In fact, there is no act or statement by appellant that would lead one to infer that he intended to use the tools at that time", and that "appellant is a certified locksmith and it is not unreasonable to find the tools of his trade in his pocket, especially when he is wearing his work attire". Note that this is on appeal: he was convicted initially. The point is that there is a lot of slop in cashing out the legal concept of "intent".

Pennsylvania does not, apparently, have any specific laws that refer to lock picks. It does have a statute that addresses having criminal tools, which are defined as (including) "Anything used for criminal purposes and possessed by the actor under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for lawful uses it may have". Mr. Gendrachi had those very tools, and the appeals court did not say anything to suggest that the tools were not "criminal tools" (and in FN 5 they actually point out that the Commonwealth cannot say that the tools were weapons, a ludicrous proposition never raised by anyone – so by failing to deny that lock picks are criminal tools, they are adoptively admitting that they are criminal tools). Thus I conclude that there is a law in PA, that lock picks are burglary tools, and that the government would have to prove intent to use criminally.

  • +1 -- Thank you for this outstanding answer! – feetwet Apr 13 '16 at 14:37
2

Google results show the fact that Pennsylvania doesn't have specific laws concerning possession of what are called "lock picking tools." https://www.google.com/search?q=lock+picks+pennsylvania

Some states have laws that state the tools are legal and law enforcement must show intent to use them maliciously; some state laws say that possession of such tools is prima facie evidence for illegal activity, and some states - like PA - simply don't have specific laws. Simple possession of the tools can be a different matter than possession and intent to do something with them, under some state codes. Check out http://lockwiki.com/index.php/Legal_issues

PA Code is such that people could be prosecuted for possessing such tools and with an intent to use them. One section is "Manufacture, distribution or possession of master keys for motor vehicles." http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/consCheck.cfm?txtType=HTM&ttl=18&div=0&chpt=9

Under that law, probably a screwdriver jammed in an ignition switch could be construed to be a master key. But definitely having and using lock picking tools specifically for trying to open or opening locks of cars and houses not your own.

You can always contact https://www.attorneygeneral.gov and ask about the specific status of lock picking tools, as laws change. Or ask your local free law clinic for information on possible instances of when people might be prosecuted, such as if police find those tools in your vehicle or in your pockets during a traffic stop.

But unless you're dressed like a ninja and sneaking around the neighborhood at night instead of playing with locks in your garage watching YouTube videos about the hobby of lock picking, you should fine.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.