In light of El Chapo’s recent recapture and the release of Sean Penn’s interview of the fugitive in Rolling Stones, is Penn likely to face charges himself?
When Penn conducted the interview in October 2015, El Chapo was very much a wanted man. However, can a journalist/actor such as Penn be held criminally accountable for holding an interview? Section 1071 of the criminal code, the U.S. law governing harboring a fugitive, makes it an offense only “to harbor or conceal any person … so as to prevent the fugitive’s discovery and arrest … ” Penn obviously knew of El Chapo’s location yet he neglected to share that with authorities. While morally one would jump to the conclusion that Penn committed a criminal offense, without the aid or concealment of El Chapo, it would appear as though Penn is in the clear. Section 1071 does not have an affirmative duty to notify authorities of the location of a fugitive. While all the details of what took place between Penn and El Chapo have not emerged, in order for Penn to be held liable he would have had to provide aid to the fugitive in some way such as provide money, or tip him off to evade arrest. In fact, El Chapo’s desire to have his story told by Hollywood led to his arrest of which Penn’s involvement might have actually helped authorities.
In the end, Penn will most likely not face any charges unless further details of possible assistance emerge. However, Penn may be subpoenaed to be a possible witness to confirm the confession that was in Penn’s piece, “I supply more heroin methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats”.