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Sam SuttonSam Sutton

Degree: MPP, JD
Class of: 2013
Favorite course: Public Finance (thanks Prof. Gochnour!)
Job Title: Deputy District Attorney, Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office

Tell us a little bit about you current position?

I am now a Deputy District Attorney in Salt Lake County, Utah, and have worked in the DA's office in at least some capacity since graduation. I prosecute criminal cases filed in Utah's Third District Courts. Currently I work in the Juvenile division, but have handled misdemeanors in the adult system as well. I love my job, and find it exciting because as a criminal prosecutor, I have the power to profoundly affect people's lives (usually for worse -- asking courts to impose jail time, probation, fines, community service hours, etc.). As a prosecutor I have a lot of discretion to handle cases as I see fit. With that discretion comes a lot of responsibility, and taking that responsibility seriously is the aspect of my job which makes me the most proud. Many aspects of my job have a lot of impact, but how I handle the defendants in my cases most so. Balancing the protective needs of the community with our rehabilitation goals for those who have (allegedly) committed crimes can be difficult, and getting that balance right (or wrong) may help determine the defendant's future life course. For those who don't understand my work, Law & Order is a good place to start. Though in reality it's not quite as sexy or flashy as it is on TV! I spent nearly two years working as a law clerk in the DA's Office, conducting legal research and drafting documents. So no, I did not take an unusual path -- I basically refused to leave the DA's office until I convinced them to hire me as an attorney. And it was the connections I made as a clerk within the office that helped the most in getting my current position.

How has having an MPP influenced your career?

I was hired as a lawyer first and foremost because of my J.D., not my Master's. But my M.P.P. has positively influenced my career in a number of other ways. In a sense my job is to enact public policy -- I apply and enforce laws which exist precisely because society has decided it is good policy to punish and/or rehabilitate people who engage in certain kinds of conduct. Also, through my prosecutor's discretion, I have latitude to treat certain defendants differently than others based on the particulars of their cases. This, in my opinion, is the very best kind of public policy practice. What policy objective(s) should I pursue in this case, and why? What is the best way to serve those objectives? And what can I do from my position to help serve those objectives? These are questions I regularly ask both myself and my colleagues, and I find myself drawing on my M.P.P. training and experience when I do. 

Advice for those thinking about or going through the MPP program now?

Find a way to apply what you're learning and what you're doing in class to something you can do, want to do, or already do in the "real" world. That, in my experience, is where an M.P.P. degree really becomes valuable -- as a supplement to your current or future career. The study of public policy is absolutely useful and interesting in its own right, but in my experience you'll get much more value out of your M.P.P. if you combine it with career choices which already apply or appeal to you. 

Advice for those thinking about or going through the MPP program now?

I really enjoyed the joint J.D. / M.P.P. experience. It gave me a slightly different perspective on the law as I worked through law school, and I feel I have a better understanding of what the law can do -- and not do -- as a result of my M.P.P. In at least some sectors that's a very valuable perspective other lawyers might not have. You'll have to ask my supervisors whether knowing I have an M.P.P. degree actually helped me get the job, but it's certainly changed how I practice law. I believe that in turn has helped me be a better attorney, and I think that would be true no matter what kind of law I practice. Plus, when I went through the program there weren't many other J.D. / M.P.P. students, so the combination should stand out on a resume as unique, if nothing else!

Last Updated: 4/1/21