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US Supreme Court to Clarify Death Penalty Ruling - 2003-12-01

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will seek to clarify a ruling made last year on the death penalty that affects dozens of death row inmates in several states.

The high court last year ruled that juries, not judges, should make the key decisions as to whether a convicted criminal lives or dies.

Now, the Supreme Court says it will decide how that decision should be retroactively applied to convicted murderers already on death row. The outcome of the case will affect more than 100 prisoners awaiting execution in several western states.

The high court will have to sort through conflicting decisions from lower appeals courts, as to whether the new rule that juries and not judges decide the punishment in death penalty cases can be used to reconsider death sentences already handed down.

The high court will hear arguments in the case some time over the next few months, and will issue a decision by next July.

In an another matter, the Supreme Court decided not to hear a case involving gun rights. The court let stand a lower court decision that declared there is no constitutional right for an individual to own a gun.

Gun rights groups had hoped the court would take up the case and confirm what they regard as a constitutional right to bear arms. The case stems from a challenge to a California law banning high-powered weapons.