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One of the most firmly established doctrines in the field of constitutional law is that a court will pass upon the constitutionality of a statute only when it is necessary to the determination of the merits of the case. Bissell v. Commonwealth, 199 Va. 397, 400, 100 S.E.2d 1, 3 (1957) (citations omitted). See also Jones and Hall v. Commonwealth, 210 Va. 299, 303, 170 S.E.2d 779, 782 (1969); Corbett v. Commonwealth, 210 Va. 304, 307, 171 S.E.2d 251, 253 (1969). 

'When the validity of an act of the Congress is drawn in question, and even if a serious doubt of constitutionality is raised, it is a cardinal principle that this Court will first ascertain whether a construction of the statute is fairly possible by which the question may be avoided.' Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22, 285 U. S. 62 (1932) (footnote collecting citations omitted). It has long been an axiom of statutory interpretation that 'where an otherwise acceptable construction of a statute would raise serious constitutional problems, the Court will construe the statute to avoid such problems unless such construction is plainly contrary to the intent of Congress.' Edward J. ...

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