ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ New York's highest court gave the go-ahead Wednesday for prosecution of five men on reinstated charges alleging they gang-raped a woman in a bar after she passed out drunk.

The Court of Appeals refused to consider an appeal from the men, who were originally charged with first-degree rape in the 1991 incident but were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of sexual misconduct and avoid spending any time behind bars.

After a public outcry from the woman and women's rights groups, the state attorney general's office had the plea bargain nullified and the original charges reinstated.

Now, the men could face prison sentences of up to 25 years. Their attorneys argued that reinstatement of the rape charges was unconstitutional double jeopardy - being tried twice for the same crime.

Mark Hartle, Mario Pistolesi, David Cummings, Michael Curio and Greg Streeter were first charged with rape for having sex with Krista Absalon, who had passed out after a night of drinking in the Casablanca bar in Gouverneur.

In a move that outraged Absalon, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Richard Manning allowed the men to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of sexual misconduct in June 1993. A town justice fined the men $750 each and imposed no jail time.

Absalon went public with her opposition to the plea bargain, leading then-Gov. Mario Cuomo to appoint then-Attorney General G. Oliver Koppell as a special prosecutor.

Koppell successfully argued that the charges were illegally dismissed because they were resolved in town court instead of county court. He also said the men should not have been allowed to plea bargain to a misdemeanor, but only to a lesser felony.

The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court unanimously affirmed reinstatement of the charges last month in an initial appeal by the five.

``I'm quite disappointed that the Court of Appeals completely ignored our argument that there is no procedural mechanism that allows a prosecutor to do what the attorney general has done,'' said Gary Miles, a lawyer for defendant Mark Hartle.

He said defense lawyers were discussing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

State Attorney General Dennis Vacco said, ``The Court of Appeals has finally halted defense efforts to use technical loopholes to allow those responsible for the brutal barroom attack on a defenseless young woman to escape blame.''

Miles said he and other attorneys for the men will decide in the next few days whether they will try to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.