RUMMEL v. ESTELLE
After being convicted of three felonies over a period of fifteen years, William James Rummel was given a life prison sentence as mandated by a Texas recidivist statute. Rummel's offenses involved approximately $230, and all of the offenses were nonviolent. Lower courts rejected Rummel's challenge to the sentence.
Did Rummel's life sentence under the Texas recidivist law constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment?
Legal provision: Amendment 8: Cruel and Unusual Punishment
In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that the life sentence imposed by Texas law did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Court held that Texas had a significant interest in dealing "in a harsher manner with those who by repeated criminal acts have shown that they are simply incapable of conforming to the norms of society." The Court also noted that Texas had "a relatively liberal policy of granting 'good time' credits to its prisoners," indicating that there was a possibility that Rummel would not be imprisoned for the rest of his life.