After graduating from Vanderbilt Law School in 1983, C. Samuel Sutter began his legal career in private practice on Cape Cod. He joined the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office in 1991 and served four years in the district court and four years in the superior court. In 1992, Sutter was named Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) prosecutor of the year. In 1999, he left the office to reenter private practice. Over the next seven years, he built a prominent practice in Southeastern Massachusetts. In 2006, Sutter was elected Bristol County District Attorney after defeating a 16-year incumbent. He has held the office in two successive elections.
As he began his first term in office, Sutter employed a series of new and aggressive strategies to attack the problem of gun violence, which he has characterized as one of the two, along with child abuse, most pressing public safety issues in the nation. From his first day in office, Sutter implemented an array of new policies regarding illegal gun use. These policies centered on the use of dangerousness hearings to keep gang members and other criminals arrested with illegal firearms behind bars for 90 days while his office rapidly prosecuted the case. On May 4th of 2009, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled, in a Bristol County case, that the Legislature had not made it clear that dangerousness hearings could be used on illegal gun possession felonies and therefore, District Attorney Sutter could no longer use the statute for these cases until the Legislature amended the statute. Immediately after the SJC’s ruling, Sutter began leading a state-wide effort to get the dangerousness statute amended. He enlisted the support of every district attorney in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association, the mayors of Bristol County and state representatives and senators from across the Commonwealth. His persistent efforts paid off in July of 2010 when the House and Senate passed an amendment to the Dangerousness Statute, which once again gave prosecutors the authority to request dangerousness hearings in illegal gun felony cases.
The results of the efforts to combat gun violence were transformative. Shootings declined in New Bedford from 38 in 2006 to 4 in 2012 and, county-wide, from an average of four to five shootings per months in 2006, to approximately one per month in 2012. Reports of shots fired also fell an average of 33 percent in the county's three major cities.
Although the dangerousness hearing initiative is the best known tool Sutter has employed to reduce gun violence, it is just one piece of a larger plan the district attorney developed to tackle this destructive problem. Since taking office, Sutter has created a Gun Crime Unit for superior and district court; he has assigned prosecutors to respond to the scenes of non-fatal shootings and investigate these cases just as prosecutors investigate homicides; and he has consistently refused to reduce charges against those who are caught carrying illegal firearms on the county's streets.
Additionally, Sutter has followed through on his campaign promise to solve cold homicide cases from previous administrations and improve the office's homicide solve rate; he has cracked down on major drug dealers through a firm no plea bargaining policy on the most serious cases; implemented a one of a kind office-wide volunteer initiative; modernized case management and budget management at the office and reorganized the office in order to put more prosecutors in the county's courtrooms. He has also kept his campaign pledge to forge a much closer relationship with local police departments and has fostered greatly enhanced cooperation and information sharing amongst law enforcement agencies through multi-jurisdictional crime fighting initiatives and innovative technology.
During his tenure, Sutter's Cold Case Unit has solved eleven previously unsolved homicides from previous administrations, one of which dated back to 1986. To date, his Homicide Unit has brought charges in more than 80 percent of the homicides that have occurred since he became district attorney, a solve rate that far exceeds the national average of around 64 percent.
Sutter also brought back court-ordered wiretap investigations to Bristol County after a 16 year absence, in order to carry out his commitment to cracking down on the county's biggest drug dealers. His office has already undertaken five large-scale wiretap investigations which resulted in the arrests of several leaders of organized drug trafficking rings.
In October 2007, Sutter announced the formation of a unique volunteer initiative within his office. He redesigned the Community Affairs Division and made the centerpiece an inter-office volunteer program. Since then, prosecutors, managers and other staff have contributed more than 20,000 hours of community service through mentoring at risk youth, tutoring, coaching and other needed community activities. Sutter has also offered free basketball, baseball and tennis clinics to hundreds of Bristol County youngsters to emphasize the benefits of sports and a healthy, active lifestyle.
During his time as District Attorney, Sutter has been a board member of the Bristol County Child Advocacy Center as well as a board member of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance. District Attorney Sutter was awarded the Prestigious Advocate for Nursing Award by the Massachusetts Nursing Association in October 2010 for his efforts in combating assaults against nurses in the workplace. In 2011, he served as the president of Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association. He has also twice been named Lawyer of the Year by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and was named SouthCoast Man of the Year by the New Bedford Standard Times after his first year in office.
Sutter is a graduate of Brown University and Vanderbilt Law School. He lives in Fall River with his wife, Dottie, his two sons, Cliff and Alex, and his daughter, Ava.