Between 1964 and 1973, William James Rummel (defendant) was convicted three times for nonviolent property felonies, the total value of which was about $230. Pursuant to the Texas recidivism statute, which was harsher than almost any other state's, Rummel's third felony conviction subjected him to life imprisonment as a recidivist. Rummel brought a habeas corpus action against Estelle, the Texas director of corrections. Rummel did not question the state's right to treat his crimes as felonies, but he contended that his life sentence was so disproportionate to the nonviolent crimes he committed that it violated the Eighth Amendment. The district court denied relief. Rummel appealed and a circuit court panel reversed. The full circuit court reheard the case en banc and reinstated the district court's judgment. The full court placed particular importance on Rummel's eligibility for parole after 12 years. Rummel appealed to the United States Supreme Court.