Late last year, as he served a life sentence in prison, Ernesto Behrens received a notice informing him of problems discovered at the crime lab that had examined DNA in his case. Behrens, who was convicted of armed sexual battery in Broward County in 2000, immediately filed a flurry of motions asking for the evidence to be reviewed.
But Judge Andrew Siegel quickly denied the motion without even granting a hearing.
Months after hundreds of cases were thrown into question over improper DNA interpretation at the Broward Sheriff's Office Crime Laboratory, Behrens' case has become a point of contention between prosecutors and public defenders.
Prosecutors say that his case wasn't affected by the DNA problem and that the notice might have been sent in error. The public defender's office, however, argues the judge's ruling shows that defendants aren't getting a fair shake at challenging the potentially tainted DNA evidence — and that a much more thorough review is needed.
"The State Attorney's Office should also be looking at justice, and if there's one person sitting in jail or one person that was wrongly convicted based on faulty DNA, they should also be looking to right that conviction," Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes says.
The lab issue, which New Times detailed in a feature story last month, surfaced in 2015. Forensic consultant Tiffany Roy reviewed evidence from a knife handle and realized it was ruled conclusive when it should have been inconclusive. Roy complained to the agency that accredits the lab, the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD), which investigated and agreed with her.