The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a burglar suspect was not in a "coercive environment" when he confessed behind closed doors in a police station to officers who told him falsely that they had found his fingerprints at the scene of the theft.
The suspect was not deprived of his constitutional rights to keep silent and to have counsel because he had come voluntarily to the station, was told immediately he was not under arrest, and left without hindrance after a half-hour interview, the court said in an unsigned opinion.
The court voted 6 to 3 to reverse the Oregon Supreme Court without hearing arguments on the case.
The state court had held that the protections of the high court's 1966 Miranda decision against self-incrimination applied to Carl R. Mathiason, whose confession became the decisive element in his conviction for first-degree burglary.
But the high court said yesterday that the Oregon state police were not required to advise him of his Miranda rights because he was "not in custody 'or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.'"
One of the three dissenters, Justice Thurgood Marshall, said the Miranda decision applied not merely to a person in custody but to anyone in a situation where there are "innerently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and to compel him to speak where he would not otherwise to do freely." The "coercive elements" working on Mathiason were "pervasive," Marshall said.
Another dissenter, Justice John Paul Stevens, said the issues in the case "are too important to be decided summarily." One such issue, he said, was that Mathiason was on parole - and "technically in legal custody" - when he was questioned. Stevens and Justice William J. Brennan Jr. said the court should have heard arguments.
In other action: PRIVACY
Federal prosecutors sometimes attach device called a pen register to a telephone line to record numbers dialed on a particular phone. If its use is unduly restricted, the Justice Department contends, prosecutors will be forced to go more frequently to court to seek permission for outright wiretapping.
But the New York Telephone Co. says the pen register itself has "inherent wiretap capability" because it needs only attachment of headphones or a tape recorder to accomplish a full wiretap interception.
The phone company also says it should not be compelled by court orders to cooperate with prosecutors in installing the device because of a danger of indiscriminant invasions of privacy.
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Bell System company. Other circuits have disagreed. Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to resolve the issue. SEX DISCRIMINATION
Last month, the court held that employer disability plans that exclude pregnancy do not violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws. Yesterday, the court agreed to hear arguments in to cases in which employers are accused of sex discrimination by refusing to give sick-leave pay to pregnant women. HOUSING DISCRIMINATION
In 1974, U.S. District Court Judge Don J. Young said that the Toledo City Plan Commission and City Council had displayed "bigotry, intolerance and selfishness at its worst" and were "totally hypocritical" when they blocked low-rent public housing on three dispersed sites in white neighborhoods.
Finding purposeful discrimination against blacks in violation of fair-housing and civil rights laws, he ordered approval of preliminary plans for two sites and rezoning at a third.
The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed him saying that intentional discrimination hadn't been proved, that he had overreached by ordering integration of all of Toledo's residential neighborhoods, and that he improperly had denied any legal remedy to white properly owners threatened with irreparable damage from his decree.
Yesterday, the high court nullified the appeals court ruling and sent back for reconsideration in light of a recent decision that laid down standards by which impermissible racial discrimination can be shown.
One such standard is a departure from normal administrative procedures. In the Toledo case, Young found, for example, that in blocking the projects the Plan Commission had turned down a staff recommendation for approval - something it had not done before. WARRANTLESS ARRESTS
Without trying to get a warrant, Chicago police officers seeking suspects for identification by a rape victim entered the home of Ben Earl Browder and arrested him his brother and two, teenage males. Browder was convicted in 1971 and is still in prison. Yesterday, the court agreed to review the question of whether his warrantless arrest was unlawful. TAXES
In an 8 to 1 ruling the court unheld a California property tax on U.S. Forest Service employees who occupy homes owned by the service in national forests.