This past Saturday, January 9th, Sean Penn published an extensive article in Rolling Stone detailing his covert trip to Mexico to meet and interview the drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera a/k/a El Chapo, along with Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo. Sean Penn could now be the focus of a criminal investigation and may be charged with crimes in Mexico and possibly the United States because of these dealings.
After reviewing Sean Penn’s article in detail, his actions could be characterized as aiding and assisting a fugitive or participating in a conspiracy to assist a fugitive. Sean Penn stated in his article all the steps he took to obscure the nature of his travel and its purpose. Under Anti-terrorist laws, a person who knowingly conceals the nature, or location of a terrorist, or who knowing or intending to conceal the whereabouts either assists in the concealment of an escape or conspires to do it can be prosecuted.
If Sean Penn was interviewed by U.S. federal agents and he somehow misleads them, then he could be charged with obstruction of justice.
Actors and movie producers do not have any immunity from criminal prosecution. From Sean Penn’s perspective, he may have been pursuing a good story for a movie, but from law enforcement’s perspective, he may have aided a fugitive in flight, acted to assist in the concealment of a fugitive, or run afoul of U.S. laws criminalizing anyone who provides material support to a terrorist. The United States has adequate legal basis to prosecute major drug traffickers as terrorist organizations. Under U.S. criminal laws, particularly U.S.C 2339A, a person who attempts, conspires or actually provides material support or resources to a terrorist or a terrorist organization, can be prosecuted in the United States federal criminal courts under the anti-terrorist statutes. Any group designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, comes under the umbrella of the U.S. Patriot Act and at this point in time, Sean Penn may be charged in the United States for violations of the Patriot Act.
Keep in mind that Joaquin Guzman Loera is a fugitive under U.S. laws and has been charged with an array of narcotics offenses including murder and gun law violations. In his article, Sean Penn wrote among other things, “There is no question in my mind but that DEA and the Mexican government are tracking our movements.” And Sean Penn wrote that he communicated with “El Chapo” by employing ‘burner phones’ and there was “one per contact, one per day, destroy, burn, buy, balancing levels of encryption, mirroring through Blackberry Phones, anonymous email addresses, unsent messages accessed in draft form.
Sean Penn may well be prosecuted because “El Chapo” may try to lessen his criminal exposure by testifying as to what Sean Penn did and said. Testimony from a co-conspirator and the addition of evidence is sufficient for a conspiracy count. A conspiracy requires an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. Here, El Chapo and Sean Penn acted in concert and with actual knowledge of what they were doing to avoid detection and arrest.