Sutherland received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College in 1953. Four years later he earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University.
Sutherland began his career as an instructor of the history department at the University of Iowa in 1958. Two years later he promoted to an assistant professor and associate professor in 1964 at the same university.
Then in 1967, Donald became a professor at the University of Iowa. In 1982, he was appointed professor of history and law, and was named Carver Professor of History and Law at that university in 1985 and held the position until 1986.
Sutherland was a member of thу Medieval Academy of America, the Royal Historical Society, American Society for Legal History and the Solden Society.
On July 27, 1957 Donald Sutherland married Janet Meager. Then on December 17, 1961 he married Judith Lynne Cleveland. They have 4 children.