Will Sean Penn be Prosecuted for his Secret Meeting with ‘El Chapo?’

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Actor Sean Penn may or may not be subject to prosecution stemming from his secret meeting with convicted drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, legal experts tell PEOPLE.

Penn – enacting the real-life role of a reporter for Rolling Stone – conducted what he apparently hoped would be a clandestine interview in October with Guzman, who was hiding in Mexico after escaping a maximum security prison there in July. Penn’s account of the meeting was published online Saturday, a days after Guzman was arrested in a raid by Mexican authorities that killed five.

The question now is whether Penn will face charges for his dealings with Guzman, who was a fugitive from American authorities on drug trafficking charges.

Georgetown University Law School Professor Paul Rothstein, an expert in criminal law and procedure, tells PEOPLE that knowingly visiting a fugitive is not a crime:

“There is no criminal liability for seeing something illegal and not reporting it.” He added, “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 arranged profit or gain for Guzman – Guzman allegedly met with Penn because he was interesting in making a biopic about his life – the actor could be in trouble.

“A prosecutor could frame that as aiding and abetting,” Rothstein says.

Whether Penn is liable or not hinges on intent, legal experts say.

“A lot will depend on how the meeting was arranged, and the entire purpose for which he went,” says Wisconsin-based lawyer Mary Lou Woehrer, who represented Lawrencia “Bambi” Bembenek, a convicted American murderer who escaped prison and fled to Canada in 1990.

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SOURCE: SUSAN KEATING
People