It is difficult to know when to apply the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because
A. the definitions of “cruel” and “unusual” are difficult to establish.
B. the public presses the government to inflict cruel punishments.
C. cruel punishments are sometimes necessary.
D. criminals are deterred only when the government is willing to be cruel.
E. unusual punishments are often necessary for unusual criminals.
Option A is clearly the correct answer to this question. All of the other options are wrong because they suppose that we actually do know what punishments are cruel and unusual but we simply do not choose to obey the 8th Amendment ban on such punishments.
The Supreme Court does not look at punishments (notably, the death penalty) and say “this is clearly a cruel punishment, but we do not choose to ban it because people support it and because cruel punishments are necessary, regardless of what the 8th Amendment says.” This is why the options other than Option A are wrong.
Instead, it is hard to apply the 8th Amendment because there is no objective way to define what punishments are and are not cruel and unusual. Many people think that capital punishment is, by definition, cruel and unusual, but many people disagree with them. You could argue that holding someone in a prison where they are likely to be assaulted by other prisoners is cruel, but most people would disagree. The word “cruel” is not one that can be objectively defined. This is why Option A is the best answer.