It sounds like you have been charged with failure to obey a traffic control device in violation of VTL 1110-a which for a first offense within 18 months punishable by a fine up to $150.00, up to 15 days in jail, 2 points and a mandatory surcharge of $80 or $85 depending on the venue of the case. If this was not your first offense within 18 months you may be subject to additional penalties. You may have a defense to the charge pursuant to 1110-B which states in relevant part that “ no provision of this title for which signs are required shall been forced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official sign is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person”. Regardless, most town and village court prosecutors would -assuming you have an otherwise clean driving record and there was no related accident-probably be willing to reduce the charge down to parking on pavement in violation of VTL 1201-a which is punishable by a fine of up to $150.00, up to 15 days in jail, 0 points and no surcharge. If your case is pending in one of the traffic bureaus, you may have to take the case to trial.
With all the colleges in our area, the fact that you are "good student" may do you more harm than good in discussing the matter with a prosecutor. The fact you did not see the sign really makes no difference in terms of proving your case.
As you can tell from the prior answers, the cost of hiring a lawyer makes little economic sense, particularly since your description of the facts would help prove your violation.
You can, however, take some steps to see if you can get this resolved without a lawyer based on local practice. There are no town/village prosecutors in Tompkins County: all such matters are handled by the District Attorney's office. Given the volume of traffic charges, you will find you cannot call the DA's office to discuss the matter.
What you should do is get a copy of your driving abstract from the DMV on Third Street in Ithaca. Assuming your abstract shows no prior violations, send the abstract along with a request for an offer to the DA's office. The letter should say nothing more than you request an offer to resolve the matter and, if possible, that the matter be dismissed. Be sure to send the letter in advance of the court appearance date. Make sure you appear at the Court appearance date. Once there, you can again ask that the DA drop the charge. You might be asked to plead "guilty with an explanation" ... at that point you can either choose to talk for yourself or ask to consult with a lawyer. Very often, the DA will tell you an offer at court (making it "on the record"). You should expect the offer to be "worse" if you choose not to talk with the DA. You can, at that point, accept the offer or go and consult a lawyer. Many lawyers in this area will consult with you for half an hour to evaluate your options, a much less expensive alternative to having them represent you in court on this relatively minor charge.
The worst that might happen is that you would be found guilty and be asked to pay a fine and surcharge: this would result in points, higher insurance rates and a lighter pocketbook, but you would not get any sort of criminal record. This charge is just about the least charge you can receive for a moving violation.
Disclaimer: We are providing this general reaction to your question for discussion and informational purposes only. Our answer could change depending on the specific facts of your situation. This answer is not intended to be legal advice and providing this answer or your reading it does not create a lawyer-client relationship: we create such relationships only when there is signed a retainer agreement with this Firm.