A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’m fascinated by the idea of lock picking, but I wondered if it was actually legal to own lock picks here in Illinois. So I posted a question in Avvo Answers, an online service in which lawyers give out free advice, to see if anyone could or would tell me what the law was. I wasn’t spectacularly impressed with the response.
Fortunately, I had a backup plan. In a blatant attempt to encourage more Chicago-oriented crimlaw blogging, I emailed my question to Denise Nalley, a local criminal defense lawyer whose Chicago Criminal Law Journal blog is getting off to a slow start. She was nice enough to provide an answer, which I’ll repeat here in case anyone else is interested:
Regarding lock picks, it is important to note that many things can be construed as burglary tools under the statute, like screwdrivers. Also that little stick pin that many parents have to open doors if their kids lock themselves in a room is also technically a lock pick. So, it is not illegal to just own them, the State must also prove intent to enter AND intent to commit a theft therein. The problem arises when what you own is a “lock bumping” device. This refers to a device used to move the internal tumblers and I suspect is what you are interested in. If a person is found in possession of one of these devices a Judge may infer intent and you will be screwed unless you are in a profession allowed to be possession of said device. (See statute below) If found guilty of Possession of Burglary Tools it is a Class 4 Felony punishable by 1-3 years in prison and it is a probation eligible crime. I have no knowledge of any City statutes deviating from State statutes here. I hope I answered your questioned.
Nalley also included the relevant statute:
Sec. 19 2. Possession of burglary tools.
(a) A person commits the offense of possession of burglary tools when he possesses any key, tool, instrument, device, or any explosive, suitable for use in breaking into a building, housetrailer, watercraft, aircraft, motor vehicle as defined in The Illinois Vehicle Code, railroad car, or any depository designed for the safekeeping of property, or any part thereof, with intent to enter any such place and with intent to commit therein a felony or theft. The trier of fact may infer from the possession of a key designed for lock bumping an intent to commit a felony or theft; however, this inference does not apply to any peace officer or other employee of a law enforcement agency, or to any person or agency licensed under the Private Detective, Private Alarm, Private Security, Fingerprint Vendor, and Locksmith Act of 2004. For the purposes of this Section, “lock bumping” means a lock picking technique for opening a pin tumbler lock using a specially crafted bumpkey.
Possession of burglary tools in violation of this Section is a Class 4 felony.
(Source: P.A. 95 883, eff. 1 1 09.)
That’s not quite the answer I was hoping for—when jail is a possibility, I’d prefer a somewhat brighter line—but I suspect it’s the best answer I’ll get for such a hypothetical situation.
By the way, just so we’re all clear, I’m not a lawyer, Nalley has never even met you, and this isn’t legal advice.