Indiana Law Journal

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2005

Publication Citation

80 Indiana Law Journal 571 (2005)


In 1996, the State of South Carolina charged Larry McVay with common-law robbery. McVay, who was employed part-time and took home less than $160 per week after taxes, claimed that after paying his basic living expenses he had no money left with which to hire an attorney. A South Carolina court disagreed and denied McVay's requestfor appointed counsel. ' Seven years later, Scott Peterson was arrested for the murder of his wife and unborn child in California. Although Peterson owned a home, drove an expensive SUV, and was carrying $10,000 in cash when he was captured, he claimed to be indigent. The State of California agreed and appointed counsel for him. The rationale underlying the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright was that in order for every defendant to stand equal before the law, the poor man charged with a crime must be provided with a lawyer to assist him.3 Yet despite Gideon's pronouncement, the seemingly middle-class Peterson was appointed counsel, while the nearly penniless McVay was left to fend for himself. As Gideon celebrates its fortieth birthday, this Article confronts the question of what it means to be indigent in our federalist system and whether the Supreme Court could establish a framework for defining indigency that would equalize the right to appointed counsel across the fifty states.