Sutton and Cayton part on sentencing

Published 10:55 pm Friday, October 15, 2010


Staff Writer
Two local District Court candidates gave divergent opinions on the state of North Carolina’s sentencing guidelines during the Washington Daily News candidates forum Tuesday night.
Asked if the state’s present sentencing guidelines should be revamped, Washington attorney Darrell Cayton Jr. said, “Yes, they probably do because in some regards the guidelines restrict what judges can do.”
Some people may believe those restrictions are a good idea, Cayton pointed out.
“When you judge every case based on the facts of the case, some sentences merit tweaking, a little different, maybe, than other things, depending on the facts of the individual case,” he said.
Most judges are good at their jobs, Cayton indicated.
“I think I trust them with the discretion to judge accordingly,” he said.
Watsi Sutton, also a Washington attorney, said the state’s sentencing structure provides guidance with which judges can craft rulings, based on the severity of an offense and the offender’s criminal history.
“However, it also provides discretion for judges to look at the individual circumstances that are presented to him — excuse me, to her, I hope in this situation,” Sutton said.
The sentencing guidelines let judges consider cases on an individual basis, she added.
“So, I believe that our current sentencing guidelines provide a level of objectivity, but also provide judges with a level of discretion,” Sutton summed up.
The candidates used their opening statements to distinguish themselves from each other.
“Typically what I’ve tried to do is show a distinction between the candidates, and that’s not what I’m going to do tonight,” Cayton said. “I’m going to tell you about an absolute-must character trait that a good judge must have. And that character trait is one of independence, one of being unbeholden to anybody.”
Cayton said he is independent by nature.
“Independence is a trait that a good judge must have, but by the same token a judge has to be decisive,” he went on. “Decisions must be made from the law, the facts presented.”
In her time at the microphone, Sutton highlighted her stint as an assistant district attorney, managing attorney of a local office of Legal Aid of North Carolina, and, at present, a defense attorney.
“I have an array of experience handling family, criminal, juvenile, small-claims matters, before the District Court,” she said. “My experience is both balanced and broad.”
Cayton and Sutton are campaigning to replace retiring Judge Sam Grimes, who serves in the 2nd Judicial District encompassing Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell, Beaufort and Washington counties.
Voters in all five counties will decide which candidate will come out on top on Election Day, Nov. 2.