The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Freeman
Defendant, Tory R. Taylor, was convicted in the circuit court of Winnebago County of aggravated discharge of a firearm (720 ILCS 5/24-1.2(a) (West 1994)) under the theory of accountability (720 ILCS 5/5-2 (West 1994)). The appellate court affirmed the conviction (287 Ill. App. 3d 254), and defendant sought leave to appeal to this court. In denying defendant's petition for leave to appeal, this court exercised its supervisory authority and directed the appellate court to vacate its judgment and to reconsider the cause in light of our opinion in People v. Dennis, 181 Ill. 2d 87 (1998). On remand, the appellate court entered an order pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 23(b) (166 Ill. 2d R. 23(b)) once again affirming defendant's conviction. We allowed defendant's subsequent petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)) and now reverse the judgments of the appellate and circuit courts.
This case arose from a traffic altercation on August 28, 1993, in Rockford, Illinois. Defendant, who was 15 years old at the time, was driving an automobile accompanied by his friend, Lynn Hollingshed. Witnesses testified that defendant was the driver of the vehicle and that Hollingshed was a passenger sitting in the front seat. Defendant testified that, while driving, Hollingshed showed him a .25-caliber handgun that he had pulled out of his pocket. At approximately 7:30 p.m., defendant turned from a large street onto a two-lane, two-way side street.
At the same time, Edward Dawson, his wife Alta, and a friend were traveling on the same side street. Vehicles were parked on both sides of the street, diminishing the lane sizes. Defendant turned onto that street as Edward was approaching the intersection. The accounts of the incident vary beyond these facts. Edward and Alta testified that defendant's vehicle came quickly around the corner, partially occupied both lanes, and forced their vehicle close to a parked car. Defendant testified that the street was too narrow for both automobiles to pass and that he stopped his car and backed it up to allow the other vehicle to pass.
Edward and Alta testified that they exited their vehicle to look for damage done to it or any parked cars. They stated that Hollingshed then exited defendant's vehicle and that Edward asked whether the young man had a "problem." Defendant testified that, as Edward drove past, Edward directed the racial remark, "You got a problem you fu*** n***?" at defendant and Hollingshed. Both Edward and Alta testified that Hollingshed had a small, black machine gun in his left hand and that, when asked if he had a problem, Hollingshed responded, "Yes, I got a fu*** problem, white boy." According to the Dawsons, Hollingshed then removed a small handgun and fired it in Edward's direction. Defendant testified that the shot was fired upward, while Edward testified that the bullet "whizzed" past his ear. Edward testified that he jumped back into his automobile as another bullet was immediately fired. Alta, who had also exited the vehicle, stated that she abruptly reentered the car and wrote down the license plate number of defendant's vehicle.
Defendant and the Dawsons testified that Hollingshed then reentered defendant's automobile and that defendant drove from the scene. The Dawsons then proceeded to the closest service station and called the police.
Defendant testified that Hollingshed was the shooter. According to defendant, Hollingshed was angered by Edward's racial slur and had told defendant to stop the vehicle. Defendant stated that Hollingshed did not indicate why he wanted him to stop the car, nor did he give defendant any reason for exiting the car. Defendant testified that Hollingshed jumped out of the automobile, yelled back at Edward, and quickly fired two shots into the air in Edward's general direction. Defendant further testified that he was startled when the first shot rang out and that, after immediately firing a second shot in the air, Hollingshed came back to defendant's car. Defendant asked Hollingshed why he fired the shots, but received no response from him. Defendant then drove from the scene.
Defendant was arrested and later charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm. Defendant was subsequently convicted of that offense under the theory of accountability, and he appealed to the appellate court. The appellate court affirmed, and defendant petitioned this court for leave to appeal. We denied defendant's petition, but, under our supervisory authority, directed the appellate court to vacate its judgment affirming defendant's conviction and to reconsider the action in light of our decision in Dennis, 181 Ill. 2d 87. Upon reconsideration, the appellate court once again affirmed defendant's conviction, reasoning that, because defendant knew of Hollingshed's prior possession of a gun and became aware of the aggravated discharge of a firearm offense during its commission, a rational trier of fact could have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant formed the requisite intent to aid Hollingshed.
Defendant once again filed a petition for leave to appeal to this court. We allowed defendant's petition and now reverse the judgment of the appellate court.
The issue in the present appeal is whether there was sufficient evidence to convict defendant under accountability on the ground that he facilitated the commission of aggravated discharge of a firearm by providing Hollingshed with an escape from the scene of the incident. Defendant contends that, in light of Dennis, he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of aggravated discharge of a firearm under the theory of accountability and that the appellate court erred in basing its affirmance on its conclusory determination that defendant simply could have "formed the intent to aid his passenger." We agree.
In assessing whether the evidence against a defendant was sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a reviewing court must determine whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. See People v. Batchelor, 171 Ill. 2d 367, 376 (1996); People v. Kitchen, 159 Ill. 2d 1, 25 (1994); People v. Furby, 138 Ill. 2d 434, 455 (1990), quoting People v. Collins, 106 Ill. 2d 237, 261 (1985). A defendant's conviction should not be set aside on grounds of insufficient evidence unless the proof is so improbable or unsatisfactory that a reasonable doubt exists about the defendant's guilt. Furby, 138 Ill. 2d at 455; Collins, 106 Ill. 2d at 261.
The Illinois statute on accountability states, in relevant part, that a defendant is legally accountable for the actions of another when: "(c) Either before or during the commission of an offense, and with the intent to promote or facilitate such commission, he solicits, aids, abets, agrees or attempts to aid, such other person in the planning or commission of the offense." 720 ILCS 5/5-2(c) (West 1994). Consequently, in order to hold defendant accountable for aggravated discharge of a firearm, ...