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Michele Materni

Michele Materni

S.J.D. 2016

Byse Fellow

Teaching Fellow (FAS)

Teaching Assistant (Harvard Law School; Harvard Extension School)

mmaterni at



My project aims at reassessing two core principles of traditional criminal law—the emphasis on results and the causal connection between an agent’s conduct and a forbidden harm—within a general theory of substantive criminal law intended to serve as the framework for my analysis.

The first chapter of the dissertation offers such general theory, developing an overarching analytical framework (= the “forest”) against the backdrop of which the discussion over single “trees” of substantive criminal law can be conducted rigorously and systematically. In the chapter, I argue in favor of a model of a minimalist criminal law grounded on strong normative principles that I present and defend not from the perspective of metaphysics or moral philosophy; but rather, in a historical and comparative perspective, as a matter of political choice. Core among those principles is the idea that in a liberal democracy the criminal law should be seen as the extrema ratio, or option of the last resort. The principles advanced in Chapter I inform the analysis conducted in Chapter II and Chapter III.

The second chapter of the dissertation aims at justifying the current practice of punishing completed crimes more severely than attempted crimes. The question at the core of the chapter is whether—or, rather, why—results should matter vis-à-vis the imposition of punishment. Taking issue both with scholars who deny that resulting harm should have any relevance on the basis of principles of moral philosophy, and scholars who attempt to attribute ontological relevance to resulting harm, I first unpack the “harm principle” and re-define it in a way that serves the specific purposes of the criminal law; then, I advance a string of arguments, grounded in history and experience, to the effect that the emphasis on results ought to be maintained as a matter of political choice.

The third chapter of the dissertation tackles the issue of causationa concept that is made necessary by the relevance of resulting harm. While the concept of causation in the law (the law in general, and the criminal law in particular) has for the longest time been a source of confusion, the chapter advances a functional elaboration of the concept of cause that makes it suitable for its purpose in the criminal lawthat of attributing individual responsibility to an agent because of the occurrence of an harmful (forbidden) result. While it is not the Chapter’s goal to be the last word on the subjectindeed, the Chapter expressly aims to be an initial building blockthe Chapter does clarify several basic (and yet, until now, somewhat obscure) concepts that relate to causation in the criminal law, thus raising the level of discourse and providing a stronger foundation for further debate on the subject.

The fourth chapter, which is meant to serve as an epilogue to the dissertation, engages with criminal law in the preventive state, laying down the grounds to begin sketching a jurisprudence of prevention in the substantive criminal law against the backdrop of the principles expounded in chapters one, two, and three.

Fields of Research and Supervisors

  • Criminal Law with Professor Alan M. Dershowitz, Harvard Law School, Overall Faculty Supervisor
  • Constitutional Law with Professor Richard D. Parker, Harvard Law School
  • Jurisprudence with Professor Lewis D. Sargentich, Harvard Law School
  • Philosophy of Science with Professor Ned Hall, Harvard University

Additional Research Interests

  • The Role and Scope of Criminal Law in a Liberal Democracy
  • Criminal Law and the Constitution
  • Constitutional Interpretation
  • First Amendment
  • Law and Morality
  • Countermajoritarian Mechanisms
  • Death Penalty
  • Civil Rights and Liberties
  • Comparative Criminal Law and Procedure
  • White Collar Crime
  • Similarities and Differences between Common Law and Civil Law


  • Harvard Law School, S.J.D. Candidate, 2011 – 2016
  • Harvard Law School, LL.M., 2011
  • UCSC Milano – Faculty of Law, Italy, Laurea Magistrale in Giurisprudenza, 2008
  • UCSC Milano – Faculty of Law, Italy, Laurea Triennale in Giurisprudenza, 2006

Academic Appointments and Fellowships

  • Harvard Law School, 2015 – 2016, Byse Fellow
  • Harvard Law School, 2011 – 2015, Graduate Program Fellow, LL.M. Advisor
  • Harvard University, FAS, 2011 – Present, Teaching Fellow
  • Federico Stella Research Center on Criminal Justice and Policy, 2008 – Present, Researcher
  • UCSC Milano – Faculty of Economics, 2009-2011, Teaching Assistant of Business Criminal Law

Representative Publications

Last Updated: April 6, 2016