Who pays Jackson's legal bill?

In the U.K. the court can make an award of costs. Does this happen in the U.S.? Did it happen in the Jackson case? Or is he stuck paying several $million?

While in civil court cases the losing party is often made responsible for the legal costs of the winner, that does not happen in criminal cases like Jackson’s. As a defendent you are entitled to a lawyer, appointed by and paid for by the court, to represent you. However, such appointees are generally overworked and unable to devote more than a minimum of attention to any specific case, so if you want a more thorough defense, it’s on your dime.

Nitpick: You’re entitled to a lawyer if you can’t afford one.

And to answer the OP, he’s stuck paying around $20 million.

Is that the actual amount?

Correct (and that distinction is more than a nitpick!)

How is it determined if you can afford one? I tell myself that I can’t afford a lawyer. Do I have to sell my house and all my possessions if I’m accused of murder?

And that is a ton of babysitting jobs!

This is just flat out wrong. Metacom has already corrected you on the criminal side of things, but you’re wrong about what happens in civil cases, too.

In the US, each civil litigant generally pays his own attorneys’ fees. There are a few exceptions, but these apply to a distinct minority of cases. The main two exceptions are (a) where a clause in a contract between the parties obligates the loser to pay the winner’s fees if litigation arises from the contract, and (b) where a statute which creates a cause of action has such a fee-shifting provision.

Further, even most costs (costs in this context do not include attorneys’ fees) are not included in the judgment. (Costs would include expert fees, deposition costs, research expenses and the like.) Rules vary from state to state, but in my state, the only costs that generally shift to the loser are filing and service of process fees.

Metacom and Random are correct; the constitution gives you the right to representation by an attorney appointed by the court, and paid by the state, to defend you against allegations of felonies (there isn’t, as far as I know, right to counsel for misdemeanors and infractions like traffic tickets).

In civil (as opposed to criminal) court, most US jurisdictions follow what is termed the American Rule (to contrast it from the British Rule). Under the American Rule, the parties generally bear their own attorneys fees (although the prevailing party can recover certain other “costs” of litigation). Under the British Rule, by contrast, the court has significantly greater latitude to award attorneys fees in addition to costs.

In my home state, in civil cases, a court may only award attorneys fees to a prevailing party if attorneys fees are authorized by statute or by a contract between the parties (i.e., there is a clause in the contract that says, “in a dispute arising under this contract, the prevailing party is entitled to an award of attorneys fees.”).

Which means that when Mr. Jackson’s accuser files his civil suit, the prevailing party in that suit will not be awarded any attorneys fees.

Balthisar, on preview: I don’t know the exact figures, but you do have to fill out forms, etc., with the government to show what your assets/income are. I suspect that there is some protection for assets, but not much. You’re asking for the taxpayers to pay for your defense, and that means you really out to need it, rather than simply want it. So while I don’t know what the cutoff is in terms of income/assets, I could see a scenario where you would have to liquidate some assets to pay for your defense.

That’s just sick. Funny, but sick.

JerH if you think that this pile-on by the SDATB (Straight Dope Attorney Truth Brigade) is bad, just think how much worse it would be if Bricker shows up with his cigar cutter.

Woe be unto ye without fingers or toes…

No–I misremembered what I’d read. His legal fees “in recent years” have been close to $20 million. :smack:

I think it depends on the state. I believe in Michigan if the crime could result in jail time you can get a court appointed attorney.

This might be bordering on IMHO, but as far as I understand it, if you do not secure legal representation, it will be provided for you.

Consider the following hypothetical:

Judge: Where is your attorney?
Defendant: I consider the charges against me to be not only false, but also frivolous, and refuse to be forced to spend my hard-earned money defending myself against ridiculous allegations.

At this point, the judge really does not want to let you procede without a lawyer. After all, self-representation opens up a can of worms with mistrials, appeal reversals, etc. that no sane judge wants to open. On the other hand, I don’t think there are any legal provisions(at least in my state) for them to seize your assets and pay for external legal representation.

What they can do is assign you a public defender and then bill you for the services later. However, I do not believe they can force you to secure outside representation.

An article at the BBC website today estimates the cost of his defense at $5 million, and repeats the preosecutions contention that he

An article at the BBC website today estimates the cost of his defense at $5 million, and repeats the preosecutions contention that he has debts of $300 million.

Could be. Michigan has (if I remember correctly) interpreted its own constitution to provide greater rights in some areas than those guaranteed by the federal constitution. (I remember this in the context of the Fourth Amendment, not the Fifth or Sixth, so, really, don’t quote me.)

Likely true. The process, though, remains the same: fill out your papers and if you qualify, you get free counsel, if not, exhaust your funds then we’ll kick in. Scott Peterson, if you will recall, ran out of money partway through the trial, so there were issues about whether the state would pay for certain expert witnesses the defense wanted to put on.

And if you refuse, the judge is required to consider whether you can ably defend yourself. Although you may have the right to counsel, you aren’t required to exercise that right. So under your hypo, the judge could permit self-representation, then appoint shadow counsel and bill you for it. But at this point, I will gracefully bow out and wait for the crim lawyers to come in and correct my post.

[further nitpick]
In some states, if you are found guilty of the charges, you can be forced to pay for your court appointed defender.