Will Sean Penn face legal trouble for El Chapo interview?

Drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Mexico City, January 8, 2016.
Drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Mexico City, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

By now most people have heard the news: Hollywood actor Sean Penn conducted an interview with Mexican drug lord and fugitive from the law, Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo.

Guzman was recaptured, but the October 2015 interview was just released on Rolling Stone’s website, with a viral photo of the pair shaking hands.

This raises an interesting question: could Sean Penn face criminal charges for interviewing a fugitive from the law?

Not according to some American legal experts. The American Bar Association Journal explains that the legal experts who weighed in on this situation don’t believe that Penn could be successfully prosecuted under Section 1071 of the United States Code, that states it is a crime to “to harbor or conceal any person for whose arrest warrant or process has been issued, so as to prevent the fugitive’s discovery and arrest.”

Legal expert and Stanford Law School Professor Robert Weisberg told the Los Angeles Times that: “He’s under no obligation to inform the authorities that he’s been in touch with El Chapo.”

Unless Penn supplied El Chapo with information or money to help him escape the authorities, it seems unlikely that prosecutors could ensure a conviction against him.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Penn won’t face any legal consequences for his conduct.

Loyola law school professor and former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson also told the Los Angeles Times that if Penn made false statements on a government form when travelling or lied to investigators, he could be in trouble with the law. Simply meeting with El Chapo though isn’t enough to warrant charges because it’s not against the law to meet with an interview subject, even if he is a fugitive.

Should El Chapo be tried in the United States though, Penn could be required to testify about their meeting.

One question remains: was Penn there just to interview the El Chapo or does he actually plan to make a movie about him?

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