Sean Penn may or may not be subject to legal investigations by the United States following his clandestine meeting with the convicted drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ in October last year.

Hollywood actor Penn, adopting the real-life role of a reporter for Rolling Stone for the interview, met with Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman in October 2015, who was on the run in Mexico having escaped a maximum security prison in the country back in July.

The head of Sinaloa drugs cartel and whom US authorities believe has brought more than 500 tonnes of cocaine to America over decades, Guzman was apparently then subsequently tracked and eventually apprehended on Friday (January 8th).

Sean PennSean Penn in Los Angeles in 2015

Some legal experts have told People magazine that Penn may now face charges for his contact with Guzman. On the other hand, American authorities have very rarely decided to prosecute journalists for having contact with controversial figures, though Penn has received plenty of criticism for his actions in interviewing Guzman.

Indeed, the actor made his version of the interview available online the day after Guzman’s arrest, adding in a brief e-mail to the Associated Press on Monday “I’ve got nothin’ to hide.”

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Importantly, the publication was told by Georgetown University Law School Professor Paul Rothstein, an expert in criminal law and procedure, that knowingly visiting a fugitive is not a crime. “There is no criminal liability for seeing something illegal and not reporting it… If Sean Penn did nothing more than visit and report, he is protected by the First Amendment, and is in the clear.”

If, however, Penn had arranged profit or gain for Guzman, then it would be a crime. “A prosecutor could frame that as aiding and abetting,” Rothstein says.

This question is up in the air, as Guzman had come to the meeting because he was interested in arranging a movie biopic about his life, and any prosecution of Penn would hinge on his intent in arranging the meeting. “A lot will depend on how the meeting was arranged, and the entire purpose for which he went,” Mary Lou Woehrer, an experienced defender in such prosecutions, said.

However, even if Penn isn’t prosecuted, an anonymous DEA agent says that it’s “almost guaranteed” that he’ll be in court as part of the witness process.

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