From 1988 to 1995, Sutton served as a criminal trial prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney's Office in Houston, where he tried more than 60 first chair felony jury trials. In 1994, Sutton obtained the death penalty against Raul Villareal in the rape and murder of two teenage girls, Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena. Four other death penalty verdicts were rendered in the case.
In 1995, Sutton accepted a position as criminal justice policy director for then-Governor George W. Bush, providing analysis and recommendations for proposed criminal justice laws for Bush to support or veto.
Upon Bush's election as president in 2000, Sutton became coordinator for the Bush-Cheney transition team assigned to the Department of Justice where he served as Associate Deputy Attorney General, initially advising on U.S.-Mexico border issues.
United States Attorney
On October 25, 2001, Bush nominated Sutton for U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, one of the nation's busiest criminal dockets, known for its high percentage of drug and immigration crimes and covering 68 counties including Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and 660 miles of border. Sutton returned to Austin, where he oversaw a staff of 140 lawyers and a changing mission. Traditionally focused on border-related crimes, the U.S. Attorney's office increasingly focused on fighting terrorism.
As U.S. attorney, Sutton prosecuted more than 400 prison gang members, including 19 members of the Texas Syndicate in 2004, and more than 100 public officials, including former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales in 2003 on mail and tax fraud charges. Sutton also supported the buildup of federal resources, from 9,000 to 20,000 border patrol agents, on the Mexico border, and pushed for prosecution of illegal immigrants previously deported, instead of just those who had committed a serious felony.
Sutton was appointed vice chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of United States Attorneys on May 27, 2005. On March 28, 2006, Gonzales elevated Sutton to chair of the committee. In this role, Sutton frequently traveled to Washington to advise the Department of Justice on border-related issues and testify before Congress.