Thomas More, a barrister, legal scholar, philosopher, patron saint of statesmen and politicians, and advisor to the King, was put to death for High Treason on the 6th of July, 1535.
Perhaps presciently, given his eventual beheading, Thomas More felt rather strongly against the death penalty.
In his opus from 19 years prior to his eventual execution by Henry VIII, More provided a practical account as to why societies should avoid the death penalty. In the first book of his treatise Utopia More states:
‘From a practical point of view, surely it’s obvious that to punish thieves and murderers in precisely the same way [death penalty] is not only absurd but also highly dangerous for the public. If a thief knows that a conviction for murder will get him into no more trouble than a conviction for theft, he’s naturally impelled to kill the person that he’d otherwise merely have robbed. It’s no worse for him if he’s caught, and it gives him a better chance of not being caught, and of concealing the crime altogether by eliminating the only witness. So in our efforts to terrorise thieves we’re actually encouraging them to murder innocent people.’ (p 27)
For Thomas More, the use of the death penalty to deter crimes such as drug smuggling, would only result in more violent criminals rising to the ranks.
In addition to the risk and personal safety of the victim of a theft, recent studies indicate that the use of the death penalty for any crime (such as murder) puts at a serious risk, the wellbeing of any police officer sent to arrest the criminal in question. Following on from Thomas More’s logic, this may indeed be because the criminal, realising that all that awaits them is the hangman’s noose, may attempt to escape apprehension by any means necessary.
In the Uniform Crime Report published by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, of the 27 constables who fell in the line of duty in 2013, 15 of the deceased officers were killed in the apprehension of criminals in the Southern States of the US – a region that accounts for 80% of all executions.
In addition, given that only 29 of the 93 Police Chiefs surveyed in the United States believe that the death penalty acts as a deterrence to committing crime, and that only 1% of United States Police Chiefs surveyed believe that the death penalty should be expanded; perhaps there is value in taking More’s approach: that at the end of the day, by our efforts to terrorise thieves, all we’re actually doing is encouraging them to murder innocent people.