Stafford Smith opined that those nations are out of step within a modern world and that history will judge them harshly. Soon no state will seek to execute those it deems criminal according to its laws. The arguments have already been lost.
The death penalty is no deterrent and its continued usage seems more and more like political expediency.
In Death Note, no doubt one of Japan's greatest ever parables against the death penalty, Light Yagami comes across a supernatural notebook that allows him to kill anyone by writing their names. Instead of accepting responsibility for his first killing by testing the truthfulness of the notebook on a street gang member, he rationalises his murder by insisting that the criminals of the planet must perish in the name of deterrence in his "new world", something he's been long dreaming of. Ryuk, the Death God that watches over Light, remarks that at the end of this plan he will be "the only bastard left". Light replies:
"What, me? I'm just a straight-A student. A law-abiding citizen."
It is remarkable how death-penalty advocates are convinced they themselves won't fall into corruption, or self-righteousness... or even mistake. I am reminded of that immortal quote from Robert Bolt's play "A Man For All Seasons":
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
Light's story sees him adopt a God complex, which is rather fitting since God himself is also a tyrannical judge, jury and executioner. Political readers and journalists of totalitarian regimes will no doubt be very impressed with the manga/anime upon seeing it for the first time.
One thing that is so striking about the story is how well it attacks the totalitarian impulse of those who think human sacrifice is their way to civil salvation. Crowds flock to praise Light (who is hidden under the alias "Kira") and attack those who defy his anarchy and disorder. The police even start to collude. It seems as long as there are enough people who insist that Light will never become corrupt, even as he executes innocents, he is always seemingly in the right.
I wouldn't be surprised if Death Note proved to be the end of the death penalty in Japan entirely. And I hope even more that the influence will spread into China, where the battle will be far harder.
And of course, by definition you cannot deter a religious fascist who is willing to kill himself. And if your intent is to deter emotion instead of to educate and reason, do not be surprised when that emotion explodes when there is no safety net of reason.
And for goodness sake, stop assuming there is such a thing as an incorruptible state.
- James Hogg, comment 58297474, The Guardian (August 27th 2015)