New Jersey's highest court yesterday ordered a new hearing in the 15-year-old case of former middleweight boxing contender Rubin (Hurricane) Carter and John Artis, convicted twice of shooting three people to death in a tavern.

But in its 7-to-0 decision, the state Supreme Court made it clear it was not ruling on the merits of the defendants' claims of error or the other issues in the case.

The court said a new hearing was needed because of confusion and disarray regarding the testimony of a prosecution witness who recanted his testimony twice and took a lie detector test.

The trial court will decide after rehearing the circumstances surrounding the lie detector test whether a new trial should be granted and will file the record with the Supreme Court.

The case was celebrated in Bob Dylan's hit song, "Hurricane." Carter and Artis were accused of walking into a white bar at 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1966, and opening fire with a shotgun and a revolver, randomly killing three whites and seriously wounding another. The case, tried in the atmosphere of racial unrest that then beset many cities, hinged on the testimony of a convicted burglar. It is this same convicted burglar who took the lie detector test that will be the subject of Carter's new rehearing.