It's a common trope in movies that after someone performs a felony (even murder), if one "lays low for awhile" the case will more or less fade away.

Putting aside the obvious advantage that witnesses' memories fade and eventually they die, does it (still) make much sense that one can avoid being picked up for questioning just by the passage of time? What may have been true in the period depicted in The Godfather doesn't seem like it would apply in this day of database queries during traffic stops and computerized records.

Towards an answer: I assume that if a felony is not solved quickly, it's unlikely to be solved at all, but perhaps there are statistics that show that this is less true than it used to be? Or perhaps statistics about "routine traffic stops" leading to more serious prosecutions?

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    I think this question confuses two things. One thing is that the cases that aren't solved fast, are less likely to be solved ever. On the other hand "avoiding being picked up" would suggest that the case is actually solved, and the perpetrator has been identified as the suspect. Routine traffic stop leading to something more serious would suggest that there is some proof of felony on the suspect or in their vehicle, which again I don't see how that relates.
    – vartec
    May 10, 2016 at 18:56
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    @vartec it's common to, if there's a description of the suspect and/or vehicle, have police on the lookout for such people and cars. In that scenario, hiding for a few days or weeks until the dust settles might help. Of course the risk of being ratted out goes up correspondingly...
    – jwenting
    Sep 11, 2017 at 13:59

1 Answer 1


The answer is: sometimes.

This answer is most applicable to murder, which was mentioned by the OP.

Investigations are most effective early on

According to Regis University' criminology department:

When a police department receives a report of a possible homicide, the decisions made within the first 48 hours are critical. After this period expires, the chances of solving the case diminish.

If a criminal can make it through the first couple of days, they are more likely to escape and the case may become "cold". A cold case is a crime that has not yet been fully solved and is not the subject of a recent criminal investigation and if it's not being actively investigated it is less likely to be solved.


Again Regis University's Criminology department says that in a 67% of homicides the killer leaves physical evidence at the scene. Which means the police may know who to look for even if you're "laying low".

Statute of Limitations

If a criminal can avoid arrest long enough they could avoid arrest altogether because of a statute of limitations.

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    I'm worried that there is a correlation/causation issue here: My uninformed mental model is: Non-obvious cases generally never get solved. Obvious cases get solved quickly, but arrests may be temporarily delayed if the culprit goes on the run. This would explain the first statistic, without suggesting that running is an effective long-term strategy for a guilty party.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 6, 2018 at 6:30
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    @Oddthinking You're right, sometimes there is overwhelming evidence, which I touched on under the "Unless..." heading. But if there isn't overwhelming evidence (like a body) all you're left with is motive which would be coming from witnesses. If laying low results in a witness saying to the police, "Jack the Ripper? No, I haven't seen him around here in weeks" compared to "Jack the Ripper? Yeah, he was in the pub last night saying how he likes stabbing pretty things" - that's when laying low can be effective.
    – Coomie
    Feb 7, 2018 at 1:08

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