The Supreme Court held that sentencing a man to life imprisonment for three fraudulent offenses, involving a total of $229, did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishments.

In 1973 William Rummel was convicted of receiving $121 under false pretenses. Twice before, Rummel had been convicted of similar crimes. Texas had a recidivist statute that required a mandatory life sentence for a person’s third felony conviction. Writing for a 5-4 majority, Justice William H. RehnquistRehnquist, William H.;Rummel v. Estelle[Rummel v. Estelle] insisted that the doctrine of Eighth Amendment proportionality applied only to cases involving the death penalty. He found that the Texas statute had two legitimate goals: to deter repeat offenders and to isolate recidivist offenders from society for as long as deemed necessary. Also, he noted that the statute allowed for the possibility of parole.Cruel and unusual punishment;Rummel v. Estelle[Rummel v. Estelle]

In dissent, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., argued that Weems v. United States[case]Weems v. United States[Weems v. United States] (1910) and Robinson v. California[case]Robinson v. California[Robinson v. California] (1962) should be interpreted as precedents for applying the principle of proportionality to noncapital cases. Powell later wrote the majority opinion in Solem v. Helm[case]Solem v. Helm[Solem v. Helm] (1983), in which the Court used the disproportionate principle to overturn a sentence for life imprisonment, without possibility for parole, for three relatively minor nonviolent crimes.

Cruel and unusual punishment

Eighth Amendment

Robinson v. California

Solem v. Helm

Trop v. Dulles

Weems v. United States